There's an elephant in the room - and it's not just standing there, it's defecating on the couch. It's the All Blacks or, rather, the terribly unsettling fact that they are playing so bleeding well.

The Wallabies came so close to beating the All Blacks last night, something they have a habit of doing to the men in black when it is least expected.

These All Blacks simply don't know when they are beaten. This was Dublin all over again. Maybe it was even braver because the opposition were better and had given them nothing all night. They had to pull the rabbit out of the hat when it looked like they surely couldn't. And then, fourth-choice first-five, Colin Slade had to nail a tough conversion. What a kick. What a game and the All Blacks can wake up this morning and be proud of their courage and commitment. They can look at themselves in the mirror and smile because they know they have once again dodged a bullet.

And a Wallabies win has probably never been less expected, after Kurtley Beale's lunatic texting episode and the suspicion that coach Ewen McKenzie had lost the dressing room.

But here's what Kiwis, currently a nation of strangled opinionists, are too scared to say for fear of tempting fate. The All Blacks are being led so well, selected so well, performing so well and are adding to their depth so efficiently that they will surely become the first team to win back-to-back Rugby World Cups, (even after losing to the Boks recently); not to mention the first All Blacks team to win it away from home.


That particular tune has stuck in our throats before. Australia in 1991, anyone? Or 2003? France in 1999 and 2007? The old British actor Rex Harrison lived in France for a time but, good Englishman that he was, never bothered to integrate, especially with the language. "Ce bifstek," he complained to a waiter once, "est brule comme le buggere."

The All Blacks have been brule comme le buggere twice by the French and might take some comfort in the fact that, unless things go wrong, they are probably drawn to miss them in the World Cup unless France somehow again make the final.

The French, after nearly beating the All Blacks in the last World Cup final, have done a very French thing and Gallicly shrugged their way all the way down to No 7 in the world, just ahead of Scotland and Samoa.

The popular theory is they have so many hired guns in their club competition that young locals cannot find a path to the top. Their style of rugby has also changed from moody and free-spirited to predictable and grinding - magicians turned road sweepers.

England will be menacing at home. They have a reasonably recent win over the All Blacks at Twickenham and their efforts at playing a more attractive brand of running rugby in New Zealand earlier this year did them credit, although they are still far from the finished article.

There's also the Southern-Northern Hemisphere hoodoo. When South Africa play Scotland in their pool game on October 3, it will be the 50th World Cup match between a Six Nations team and one of the big three from the Southern Hemisphere.

In those 49 matches since 1987, the Six Nations sides have won just nine (18 per cent). Take out the Australians and there are only three wins over New Zealand and South Africa in World Cup history.

With all due respect to Scotland, the clear expectation is that match No 50 will not yield a further victory to the north.


Yet we Kiwis know the knockout system only too well and the jagged wounds that can be put in a world-class reputation by a single, unpredictable match or foe.

Beware the Aussies. They have a year to get it right, and they can, even though it seems like most people may think their bath mat has a higher IQ than Kurtley Beale.

McKenzie has made some cuckoo selections thus far (Beale is not a test first-five, Wycliff Palu is past his test use-by date, their second row often look like wooden Indians while Will Skelton is kept largely on the sidelines).

If they get all their ducks in a row, they will be dangerous. Beale can bring match-winner Israel Folau into the game like no one else - expect his sanctioning by the ARU to be of the being-beaten-with-a-soggy-ant variety, Skelton's bulk means he is not easily lifted at the lineouts but he is a battering ram of a player with speed and ball skills, someone capable of firing a team in the kiln of the World Cup. They have players like Will Genia and Quade Cooper yet to find their best form and an inspirational flanker in Michael Hooper.

More than that, however, is the Australian character. They don't see the grass being greener on the other side of the fence - they are the other side of the fence, they think. They love being under siege.

Cricketer Matthew Hayden maybe said it best.

"You never want an Australian with his back against the wall. You put any 12 blokes together and you'll get a job done. Whether it's getting a bogged four-wheel-drive off the beach or standing in front of a cricket wicket and making sure we're in a dominant position. It's the same dog, different leg action, so to speak."

Or there's that other Australian creed - a fair go for all, regardless of ethnicity, race, religion. Except for Poms, Seppos and Kiwis.