Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: The All Blacks illusion is over

Anyone who was moaning earlier this year about world rugby being boring because of the All Blacks' supposed domination should be feeling a little chastened by results these last few weeks.

They have earned a PhD in missing the point. There they were whining about the lack of quality opposition, all the time not realising that the one-sided nature of contests was down to the All Blacks.

They were mostly brilliant in their first 10 tests. They delivered performances that were not consistently excellent but certainly contained enough passages of rugby that were on a totally different level.

In June, they benefited from the fatigue that was manifest in the Welsh squad. They had been on the go for 15 months solid and they were munted by the time they came to New Zealand.

Fatigued or not, New Zealand still outplayed them three times. In the early rounds of the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks were able to exploit, to some extent, the fact Australia and South Africa in particular, were trying to find their feet as they introduced new personnel and in the Boks' case, a new coach.

But mostly the Boks and Wallabies and Argentina for that matter, were forced to look worse than they were due to the pressure the All Blacks exerted. New Zealand got a lot right, their opponents didn't and the score blew out in a few games.

The gap between the All Blacks and everyone else looked huge, but really, it never was.
However much of a cliché it is becoming and however many times it is said and looks wide of the mark, the margins in test football are tiny.

The All Blacks' loss to Ireland showed that. Ireland nailed it. They were right on task - 15 men playing at the top of their respective games and as a collective they were able to prevent New Zealand doing the same. The All Blacks, by being about 10 per cent off their game, compounded their own difficulties.

These two things conspired and Ireland did what many thought was close to impossible, and beat the All Blacks. Small margins but with big impacts.

Scotland's near defeat of the Wallabies is yet more evidence of how one-off games can take a direction the form book says shouldn't happen. Scotland are ranked ninth in the world, Australia third and in theory it should never have been so close.

But Scotland played to their strengths, kept their error count low and Australia struggled to respond. This is the essence of sport, the whole thing about top flight rugby - it can surprise and it is best to try to keep some perspective no matter the result.

Games between the top 10 nations in the world really do boil down to performance on the day. Maybe the All Blacks could get away with being a bit off against, say Scotland or Fiji, and still win, but anyone else, it would take against stroke of good fortune for them to under perform and still win.

Rugby wasn't boring when the All Blacks were sweeping the Rugby Championship. It wasn't devoid of serious contenders either. It was in the midst of a rare, sustained purple patch by one team.

The All Blacks found a way to perform at or near their best for 10 consecutive tests in 2016 and give the illusion they were miles ahead of everyone else. That's all it was, though...an illusion.

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