New Zealand’s 41-13 thrashing of South Africa effectively handed them their fourth Rugby Championship in five years and extended their superb unbeaten record to an incredible fourteen games.
The win in Christchurch means Steve Hansen’s men are only two games away from equalling South Africa’s 17-match unbeaten streak, the world record for the most unbeaten games in a row by a tier one country since the game went pro.
The Kiwis now haven’t tasted defeat since last August’s 27-19 Rugby Championship defeat to the Wallabies. But all good things must come to an end.
We predict when the All Blacks winning run might come to an end…
1. The Rugby Championship?
With two games remaining in this year’s competition, Kieran Read and co. play Argentina in Buenos Aires next week and then finish off their campaign against South Africa in Durban the following week.
Argentina, who have never beaten New Zealand, have pushed the All Blacks hard for around 50 minutes in their last two games.
Their clash in Hamilton two weeks ago saw the dangerous Pumas backs cause New Zealand’s defence plenty of problems in the first half, with Santiago Cordero scoring a try early on. But tries through Savea, Smith and Barrett saw New Zealand take a narrow 23-19 lead at the break.
However, after the break, the All Blacks took complete control of the game, running in five tries and ending up 55-22 winners. It is likely that this weekend’s game will follow a similar pattern: Argentina being right in there until around 50 minutes before the All Blacks pull away on the basis of their stronger bench.
For the following week in Durban, it is difficult to look past anything but a New Zealand win. With the Springboks in transition and having lost three on the bounce, it would be a major surprise if they overturned their biggest rival.
After failing to hit top gear in the first half in Christchurch a week last Saturday and with the Boks fighting hard, they only held a 15-6 lead at half-time. Following the loss of Adriaan Strauss for the visitors though and the All Blacks finding their rhythm, they ran in four tries and were 41-13 run away winners.
2. The extra Bledisloe Cup fixture?
New Zealand have not lost at Eden Park in 22 years, in a run that stretches to an astonishing 36 games. Despite the Wallabies’ improved form in their last couple of games, they are still not at the level of the team that gave the All Blacks a decent game in the World Cup final last year.
And even though they will have already sealed the Rugby Championship by then, a win for Kieran Read and co. would see them equal the world record for back-to-back victories. Even though the world’s best team never take their foot off the pedal, this carrot will give them extra motivation to ensure another win over their bitter rivals. Another New Zealand victory beckons.
3. Their end of year tour?
Surely the perfect opportunity for a Northern hemisphere team to sneak a win over the weary World Champions right?
Mmm, perhaps. Four matches including an opener against Joe Schmidt’s Ireland in Chicago on October 5 before consecutive matches against Italy and Ireland again, before finishing off their season in Paris, means they will undoubtedly be feeling a little cream crackered.
But the history books tend to tell a different story: New Zealand have only lost two Autumn internationals in the last fourteen years, both against England in 2002 and 2012.
Ireland, who showed impressive strength in depth out in South Africa during the summer, despite being ravaged by injuries, will give Steve Hansen’s men a decent test.
With talisman Jonathan Sexton back as well as Cian Healy, and other experienced, high quality performers such as Rory Best, Jamie Heaslip, Iain Henderson et al in their ranks, Ireland can ask questions of the world’s best team.
But ultimately the men in black will have too much in the final quarter for the men in green and will keep their unbeaten record against them.
Italy, who have regressed in the last couple of years, will offer plenty of passion and commitment under new coach Connor O’Shea, but will badly struggle against a far superior team.
Which leads us to the French. After a disappointing first campaign in charge, which saw France once again finish near the bottom of the Six Nations Championship, Guy Novès’ Les Bleus showed promising signs in their drawn series against Argentina, hammering the Pumas 27-0 in the second test.
One never knows what to expect with the French, but if they can build on that second test performance in June, they can give New Zealand something to think about. Play like they did for most of the Six Nations however, and it’ll be a long night for Guilhelm Guirado’s men. Another All Black win.
4. The Lions?
The Lions’ crazy schedule, which sees them play ten games in around seven weeks, including games against their top Super Rugby sides, makes it all but impossible for them to end the World Champions’ winning run.
The fact that Steve Hansen will be releasing his big guns for some of the Super Rugby games only compounds the Lions’ problems.
Factor in a long, hard European season with the fact that some of Warren Gatland’s men won’t arrive until after the opening game and it is really mission impossible.
5. The 2017 Rugby Championship:
With the Lions series offering the perfect preparation for the 2017 Rugby Championship, the All Blacks will be nicely in the groove for the shortened Championship and despite improvements in their rivals, will continue to improve themselves and will remain unbeaten
All of which leaves…
Why England in 2017 represent the greatest threat to the All blacks unbeaten reign…
Another year under Eddie Jones’ tutelage – alongside the experience those involved in the Lions will have gleaned – should mean that come the autumn next year, England will be even better than they are at present.
With the All Blacks arriving in town tired after a long, hard season, the Red Roses have a decent chance of toppling them.
With the likes of Maro Itoje, Anthony Watson, George Kruis, Billy Vunipola, George Ford having continued to develop, Dylan Hartley’s continued leadership plus the Twickenham factor, England can pass the ultimate test.
Yes, their Lions will also be tired after a really tough season, but after some good rest and relaxation plus the ultimate challenge of trying to topple the best of the best, they will also have that extra bit of motivation.
If England perform at their peak and the All Blacks are below par, England can beat them. Either way, it will definitely be an interesting ride along the way!
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena
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