Mick Cleary: Why I am glad England are dodging the All Blacks

A UK rugby writer is grateful the All Blacks and England aren't meeting until 2018, saying it adds novelty to an otherwise stale event. Photo / Photosport
A UK rugby writer is grateful the All Blacks and England aren't meeting until 2018, saying it adds novelty to an otherwise stale event. Photo / Photosport

Mick Cleary is a rugby union correspondent for the Telegraph.

The All Blacks are the best in the world, perhaps the best of all time given that on Saturday they set a record milestone of 18 successive Test victories, and the only credible challenge to their supremacy now comes from the second-ranked team in the world, England.

What a pity that the teams do not meet for another two years. What a waste of possibility that the two do not go head-to-head in the autumn Tests. First against second, gnarled, worldly-wise Kiwi Steve Hansen up against well-travelled, sharp-minded and even sharper-tongued Aussie Eddie Jones. It would be a matchmaker's delight, top billing at the box office, rugby Viagra.

Except that it wouldn't be. And no, the reservations about such a fixture are nothing to do with the possibility that Eddie's new-build England structure might come tumbling down. If that were to happen, it happens.

The real delight of not spending the next couple of weeks pondering that thought is that we are given precious breathing space in this non-stop international fixture schedule where everyone seems to play everyone all the time. There is little respite and no logic except the craven need to fill the coffers. Oh, look, it is New Zealand against Australia again, the Bledisloe Cup, in mid-October, a couple of weeks after the Wallabies have been at Twickenham via Durban to play Argentina. Where is the allure, the freshness, the point of difference or, for heaven's sake, the sense of anticipation? Nowhere, that's where.

The whole Test structure is up for review as the hemispheres argue over a share of the spoils. There we go, money again, rather than proper debate on the value of scarcity. If for a minute we adopt the lexicon of the money men, how have the Lions become the most commercially attractive brand in rugby? Easy. We do not see them very often. If they came together every year, we would all soon tire of the cherished romantic principle (And, boy, would the players get tired, too).

By circumstance rather than design, it has come about that New Zealand and England have been kept apart. They last met at Twickenham on Nov 8, 2014, their fourth meeting in five months when the result was the same as the three previous encounters in New Zealand that June, a spirited, but losing, performance.

It will have been four years by the time the teams meet again. Absence makes the heart beat faster and ever fonder. There was a time - and, yes, it does seem like yesterday to those of us of a certain age - when the arrival of an All Black touring party to these shores was an event of wonder. When Jonah Lomu rolled into town in 1997, it was a rock-star occasion, a Men In Black extravaganza.

This was Lomu up close and personal following his impact at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, here he was deliberately shielded from the public to enhance his mystique, as if his thunderous talent needed any marketing makeover, but here was the boy-giant revealing the human being within the super-powered frame, a young man afflicted by the terrible kidney problems that were to eventually cause his premature death last year. The tour party's arrival was a high-profile event when rugby got the Leicester Square red-carpet treatment.

In this era of social media and instant access, it is more difficult than ever to preserve mystery. But let us appreciate the fact that we do not have to have international teams playing each other so often without special reason. The All Blacks, fresh from their record-breaking feats in Auckland on Saturday, will have no more than a couple of days to savour their achievement before they board a plane to Chicago, where they take on Ireland at Soldier Field on Nov 5. A bonfire of vanities? You would be right.

All the talk will be of a missionary project to stimulate growth in the American market, take the game to a new audience, fire up interest among TV executives. The players are the fodder in all this, the meat that others keep devouring. And still lip service is paid to the notion of player welfare, all feigned concern before the next cash-bountiful opportunity presents itself.

By the way, if you miss the Chicago match, do not worry. The teams will be at it again at the Aviva Stadium on Nov 19.

We all understand that the international game needs funding and that can only come from broadcast deals, sponsorship and gate receipts. But the appeal is finite. And TV access is not a cure-all remedy for put-upon bank accounts. The European Champions Cup has wall-to-wall coverage spilt between Sky Sports and BT Sport, both of whom do a fine job. But there is a sense that the stretched-out scheduling across the weekend has diluted the product. There is not the same buzz about the live action in the stadium. Something is amiss.

And that is why we should treasure the fact that England will not meet New Zealand until November 2018. It will be a blue-riband fixture by then, freighted with appeal and significance only 10 months before the World Cup. It is a dream ticket for promoters and a rare treat for spectators sated by the present carbo-loaded diet of Test rugby. Less is more. That makes for real value.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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