Sean Fitzpatrick: All Black cracks only papered over

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There is an inescapable conclusion from that 34-19 loss to the Wallabies last night - and it has to do with the state of New Zealand rugby right now. We are in quite a bit of trouble.

I said in a recent column - which drew some criticism - that it was time to select All Blacks playing offshore, before the All Blacks started to lose.

Now that particular chicken is coming home to roost. I am sure I do not have to spell out what will happen to New Zealand rugby if the All Blacks continue to lose and lose their mana.

The problems evident when the All Blacks were shown up in Cardiff last year when losing to France have not really been solved. The cracks have only been papered over. We were exposed by the Boks last week and the Wallabies this week.

You can take your pick of issues - Graham Henry's re-appointment (which I supported); Robbie Deans' loss abroad; problems with player contracts and retention; our domestic game losing its shine and fans switching off.

We have for some time now been devaluing the jersey, as I have pointed out in successive columns.

While we can get away with it when we are winning, it's not the same story when we lose.

All these off-the-field issues do have an impact on our on-field results - that was clear from the test against the Wallabies last night.

I don't want to hear about courageous defeats and settling for coming second. That is not what All Black rugby is about. It is not acceptable.

I heard the All Black management saying, after the last game, that they had produced 40 minutes of their best rugby in the test against South Africa. But we lost. There's nothing "best" about a loss in All Black rugby.

If we keep damaging the values of the All Blacks, we risk eroding our team and our game further. The issues we face remain and, unless we do something about it, our national game will be all the poorer for it.

There were specific things in last night's test which also worried me. For instance, why replace Daniel Braid with Sione Lauaki? If you select a specialist No 7, then you either keep him on or you replace him with a like player.

But we don't have a like player at the moment - because of the exodus overseas and the injury to Richie McCaw. It's just another example of what I have been talking about - our lack of depth with experience at this level and how it is hurting us.

For what it's worth, I think the All Blacks will probably re-gather and win in Auckland against Australia this week. But I'm afraid that until the NZRU address these wider off-field issues, we will just be papering over the cracks again.

- Herald on Sunday

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