With all those points on the record then, the result was still nothing less than a complete negative for the All Blacks, Dunedin and New Zealand as a whole:
1) THE ALL BLACKS LOST. Stating the obvious?! Call this correspondent old-fashioned, but the reason the All Blacks have any reputation is because they are known for sporting excellence and success. Few of us are perfect, but we're nonetheless entitled to expect good results from our most famous sporting side; e.g. a win.
2) THE LOSS WAS NOT (REPEAT, NOT!) COMPLETELY UNEXPECTED. Make no mistake, many punters, movers and shakers were backing the All Blacks out of loyalty and a sense of history. But most people knew at the back of their mind that the Wallabies were a good bet to take it. Have New Zealanders lost their confidence in their national side so much that we're now preparing for second best from our rugby champions? Any win over New Zealand, if we are to be true to our heritage, should be an upset!!
3) THEY LOST TO A BETTER SIDE.There was a time when New Zealand had the best rugby side in the world. Why are the Wallabies better, how could we allow them to out-think us to the extent they did? Why should we let them? A dose of the spirit of the 1956 series against South Africa may well be in order, if this continues!
4) THEY COMMITTED SERIOUS ERRORS. Granted, this correspondent has never had the honour of putting on the black jersey with the silver fern, but that's why Oliver, Wilson etc. are in the team and this correspondent isn't! It's because they are able to play international rugby, presumably! Instead several errors occurred:
a) Tony Brown's kicking was off base. If he had been on target, the margin would have been closer.
b) With the full-time hooter sounding, Anton Oliver called for a try rather than a penalty, even though the team was eight points behind. The spirit of adventure lives but unfortunately, the All Blacks don't! There was not even a single bonus point from this move. Oliver, to his credit, accepts full responsibility for the decision, whatever the consequences. Even so, the fact that New Zealand could not win anyway at that point is a devastating indictment on the situation. The final whistle was blown as the All Blacks knocked on; perhaps a fitting epitath for the game: they tried but failed at the main hurdle.
c) Reflecting in the 24 hours after the loss, the action of Ron Cribb in conceding a penalty try through his late tackle on Joe Roff still looks incredibly bad. There are two possible mitigating circumstances: he either thought Roff was gathering the ball or he was prepared to do anything to prevent an inevitable try. If it's the first, his judgement is bad. If it's the second, it shows the All Blacks were absolutely desperate. Neither reflects well on Cribb or his teammates. Penalty tries have been increasingly common over the past decade or so at provincial, Super 12 and international level. But commentators have suggested that the All Blacks, until yesterday, never conceded a penalty try at top-level test rugby. New Zealand has been playing Australia in tests since its first outing at Sydney in 1903. We've managed to avoid conceding penalty tries for 98 years, while winning most of our games! Why should Saturday's test be an exception to this record?!
5) AUSTRALIA STILL HAS THE BLEDISLOE CUP. Our Australian friends very generously brought the cup over for us to look at before they took it home again. New Zealand lost it in the 1998 crash and unless we start shaping up, they will have a monopoly on it! This is proving to be the longest Bledisloe Cup tenure for Australia ahead of their 1979-82 reign. It's got to end and yet we won't get another chance until next season! By then, whatever the result, it will be a record four years for Australia. Enough is surely enough.
6) THIS IS THE BUSINESS END OF THE SEASON. No offense to our earlier opponents, (particularly France whose World Cup performance haunts every dedicated All Black fan) but the whole point of those games from a strategic point of view was to prepare us for the Tri-Nations! We are currently IN the Tri-Nations and so far we have gained a tryless win over South Africa (fine, but more a tribute to our defensive capability, one might argue) and a full-on loss to Australia. Two well-executed tries in the latter game to Jonah Lomu and Jeff Wilson cannot make up for the fact the All Blacks were unable to penetrate the Australian defence sufficiently. Our offensive capability is not effective enough against our opponents. Something is seriously amiss.
7) THE ALL BLACKS LOST AT CARISBROOK. As Colin Meads sat in the stands of Carisbrook on Saturday, did his mind stray back 30 years to when he captained the All Blacks against the Lions? The series when New Zealand lost the first test at Carisbrook 9-3 and went on to lose the rubber against a British and Irish touring side for the first time? It may well have. That match, the All Blacks last test defeat at Carisbrook, is beyond the memory, if not the lifespan, of a number of Rugbyheads contributers. Maybe few things last forever. But even this proud record was unable to rouse the home side to triumph. However motivated they were, they were not able to match the Australians in their dedication to the task.
What lessons are ahead for the selectors? Attacking play (but not at the expense of interceptions!!) and players with a bit of rugged determination to break the Australian line are definitely called for. Thankfully, the forwards held their own but one might add the backs couldn't do the job. The presence of a good strategist in the five-eighths could be a solution. Andrew Mehrtens is one player on his day who adds solidity to the backline strategy and perhaps he should start the game next time. Basically, if the All Blacks don't beat Australia in their next encounter, we may have to wait for a few retirements across the Tasman to improve! Whoever thought that could be a consideration for our top team?
Whatever the background, these are the facts: The All Blacks have failed to win the Bledisloe Cup for four consecutive seasons. In that time, they came fourth in a Rugby World Cup they had an entire nation willing them to win, plus one loss to France last year. They conceded one Bledisloe Cup series through a last-second penalty and the following year (whatever happens in the rest of the Tri-Nations) lost it by an even bigger margin. One might think the former result was sufficient motivation!
One cannot help but be reminded of the 1970s, when the All Blacks lost two series against South Africa, one to the Lions (narrowly winning the second series six years later), had an unhappy time in one tour of the Home Nations and France (despite only losing one test and winning all four on the later Grand Slam tour), drew two series against France and lost the Bledisloe Cup in 1979 and 1980. The contrast with the invincibility of the 1960s was strong. Signs of decline were particularly evident between 1970 and 1973 when the All Blacks lost tests to South Africa, the British Isles, France, England and were even beaten by the New Zealand Juniors and an Invitation XV during an internal tour!
The point of the above is that in the 1970s there was stagnation in the All Blacks fortunes. In the early 1980s, there were generally successful results but an aura of invincibility still eluded them until the 1987 World Cup. That meant for about a decade and a half, the All Blacks "retreated from glory" as one author has put it. If one dates the start of the All Black decline from the 1991 World Cup defeat (the signs were there beforehand, of course) New Zealand has still about five years of apathetic results to look forward to on this model.
In a professional era, the pressures are even more intense than in the 1970s and 1980s. Was the 1999 World Cup defeat an even deeper sign of All Black and New Zealand rugby's decline than we have realised?
Could it be that the All Blacks are in a similar four-year down cycle to the early 1970s? If so, we may be waiting a long time to see a world champion team from our shores again. One hopes not. The international scene has changed considerably, but at the moment confidence for a swift return to All Black glory may be misplaced.
The problem is, we don't have a choice. New Zealand demands it and the players must respond. To expect otherwise surely denigrates the All Black tradition. Wayne Smith has much to work on and little time to achieve it.