The All Blacks suffered their second loss of the season and first in two years against Australia in Brisbane and the New Zealand media trotted out a mix of predictable and outlandish excuses.
We take a look at the vintage of sour grapes.
1. The new female Prime Minister jinxed it
Poor Jacinda Ardern’s megawatt smile must have dimmed a touch when she read this headline. The new New Zealand Prime Minister has barely been in power a week than she was ‘blamed’ for casting her womanly spells on the men in black. The New Zealand Herald ‘light-heartedly’ pointed out among 5 ominous omens for Bledisloe III was the fact that the All Blacks have never won a World Cup when a female politician has been Prime Minister of New Zealand and one of the All Blacks’ worst run of losses was suffered when Jenny Shipley was the nation’s leader. Oh dear.
2. Injuries, unavailability, injuries
No Brodie Retallick, no Beauden Barrett. No Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Owen Franks and Joe Moody. That’s two IRB Players of the Year and a massive 380 test caps of experience that was missing from the field in Brisbane.
The fact that the All Blacks managed to go unbeaten during the Rugby Championship without many of these stars was a credit to their player depth and management but a settled Wallaby team came together to thwart an inaccurate and unassured All Black team which needed a few more steady heads on Saturday. A fair call on this one.
3. Dry track bullies?
The previous two losses for the All Blacks occurred in wet, windy Wellington against the British Lions and on a very spongy surface in Chicago. The Brisbane surface was soaked, having had 12 hours of rain before kickoff. Australian commentator Rod Kafer gave a surprisingly astute observation when he said the Wallabies were able to tackle the All Blacks far more effectively because of the extra time it took for the usually lightning-fingered All Blacks to catch and pass the slippery ball.
So in Brisbane the miraculous offloads and backflicks were mostly missing, or when attempted, led to forced errors because of the pressure from the Wallaby defense. Small players like Damian McKenzie and Aaron Smith who rely on a high pace, high skill game, were swallowed up in the bog in Brisbane. The Northern tour and climate will see this theory put to the test again and if proven correct, expect to see a few coaches doing rain dances in Japan in 2019.
4. The Aussies are actually not a bad side
Not many Kiwis would like to admit it but a result like this has been brewing since the 2nd half of the first test against Australia. The All Blacks ran riot in the first half of that game, leading by an astounding 40-6 at the break. But since that point, and including the near loss in game 2 in Dunedin, in the remaining 200 minutes, the Wallabies have outscored the All Blacks by 87-68. The Australian scrum has settled, and in Jack Dempsey and Sean McMahon, found combative, pacy back rowers who outplayed their All Black counterparts.
Added to this, the Wallaby backline is studded with weapons, from playmakers Will Genia and Bernard Foley, to inventive midfielder Kurtley Beale and, of course kingpin, Israel Folau. What the Wallabies lack is depth – and if this run on side loses players through injury – the second tier lies far below these players in quality.
5. Wayne Barnes
Actually, to be fair, none of the Kiwi papers blamed Barnes’ reffing for the loss in Brisbane. And the seven second half penalties against the All Blacks, including a string of 6 in a row from the 42nd to the 63rd minutes were probably deserved, but loss will no doubt propel the upright Englishman back into the ‘bad books’ of New Zealand rugby fans who still bear mental scars from his 2007 World Cup quarterfinal performance against France.