Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Time to tackle our favourite rugby foes

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The All Blacks lead the Bledisloe Cup contest against Australia, and Richie McCaw's team will try to go further ahead tomorrow. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
The All Blacks lead the Bledisloe Cup contest against Australia, and Richie McCaw's team will try to go further ahead tomorrow. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

Every year there is an All Black guarantee. At least there has been since the start of Super rugby in 1996.

Every season, New Zealanders can see the men in black duke it out with the Springboks and Wallabies, at home and abroad.

For generations brought up on the fierce rivalry and cruel rugby fates of All Black trips to South Africa, playing the Boks was the ultimate.

Those contests were heard through crackling radio broadcasts and digested after newspaper reports arrived, or from grainy movie and television film.

There was a mystique about those matches, and there still was when the All Blacks became the first side after isolation, in 1992, to play the Springboks.

The original World Cup champions' visit to one of the sport's superpowers was followed shortly after by the Boks' clash with the Wallabies, who had won the 1991 world crown.

An edge was back in rugby, some of the tradition which had been blunted, was returning.

The Boks had to battle hard to regain their playing, strategic and coaching skills after their time away from the global arena.

But they hadn't lost their sense of rugby authority.

Taunts and jibes came from South Africa as they worked their way back into test rugby and then in 1995, when they hosted and won a remarkable World Cup.

It was an extraordinary tournament with such a dramatic finish on a sunlit afternoon at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

As the rainbow shone over the nation, it signalled a change in so many areas - not least in rugby.

While the players were doing their business, administrators were hustling to find the right blend for the start of professional rugby.

There was no stopping the rush towards the pay-for-play ranks, and officials had to find frameworks for those contests.

We are now 17 years into that series - now named the Rugby Championship - which has been widened this season to include Argentina.

The All Blacks have dominated the competition, winning 50 of their 72 Tri-Nations tests. The Wallabies have won 29, the Springboks 28.

Some of the mystique about playing the Springboks has dissipated because of the annual inspection of their provincial and test talent.

No longer do we ponder about the men on the other side of the rugby planet, or brood about some of the tales relayed by sports correspondents.

We can all see for ourselves and make our own assessments, while rugby teams have analysts who fill computers and dossiers with information or clips on the Springboks.

The Boks are flesh and blood, brilliant and susceptible, just like the men wearing black.

Perhaps in recent years, even though the All Blacks have a significant choke hold on the Wallabies in the record books, we are drawn more towards the transtasman contests. Why?

Simply because they are our nearest neighbours, they are a big brother in terms of land mass, population and resources and the All Blacks can mess with them.

There are other details which help the inspection.

Supporters from both nations find it easy to cross the Tasman to watch matches live if they care, while television beams the clashes live into our homes at a reasonable hour.

Each nation understands each other's psyche, we like to needle, just like the digs over Olympic successes.

Perhaps there is also an underlying admiration for the Wallabies' style and their ability to cobble together a strong side from fewer resources.

Then there has been the Deans factor since 2008, when the former Crusaders supremo missed out on the All Blacks and joined the enemy.

That has given extra spice to the Bledisloe Cup clashes, especially after Dean's mob won the first encounter 34-19 at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney.

His jousts against Graham Henry and now Steve Hansen have been the stuff to fuel the expectations.

Since that 2008 duel, the Wallabies have won only two more while the All Blacks have succeeded a dozen times, pushing out the transtasman records to 29-14 in favour of the All Blacks since the game went pro.

Several wins against Deans' side in Australia, though, were by a solitary point and others were close.

The Wallabies perform better at home and under Deans have won two and lost four tests with the All Blacks in the great sunburnt country.

The Wallabies squeaked through an unbeaten June series against Wales to almost obscure their dreadful loss to Scotland but there is growing agitation for more success against the All Blacks.

That lure and the rising riches of a new All Black group will send the Bledisloe Cup into a fresh, frenzied chapter tomorrow in Sydney.

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- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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