Rugby was the loser in Christchurch - it got beaten up almost as badly as the Springboks.

The test was a drab, frustrating, stop-start, foregone conclusion which couldn't rise above the early penalties dished out by the officious Aussie Angus Gardner. When the referee got Dane Coles for early scrum engagement early on, I thought "oh no" and began to disengage myself and with good cause as it turned out.

The Rugby Championship test was a barely watchable bore, played in the capital of polite clapping. If the spectators who pay good money seem bored, what is the rest of the world supposed to think.

But rugby suffered most in comparison to what league dished up on Friday night. Rugby union got well and truly smashed over the weekend by the NRL, and one game in particular. The finals contest between the Cowboys and Broncos in Townsville was a stunner, the football game of the year. One commentator likened it to Ali v Frazier.


League drowns in hyperbole, but in this case it was a good description.

Here's the problem for rugby. There is hardly ever a match to match that Townsville Tornado. Forgetting all the other issues, and league can be a mundane watch as well, union struggles to produce nail biting finishes, the essence of great sport. League, with more structured possession swaps, produces them up every week and celebrates the deal with its addictive golden point madness.

All the best images from the All Blacks win over South Africa last night. Photos / Brett Phibbs.

The Townsville game involved a brutal, tit for tat, combat to the bitter end between battered men who refused to give up and produced under enormous pressure while savaged by exhaustion. The sides were eventually separated by one of the best footballers you will ever see, Johnathan Thurston, who found a bit of magic at the right time as he so often does.

You did not need to even like league to love this game. The red hot atmosphere burst out of the screen. The screaming crowd was hanging on every moment.

The rugby test in Christchurch was gripping alright, as in I had to grip the couch tightly to stay upright. Sir Graham Henry is right, and he's on the money raising the issue. World rugby is in a parlous state, key evidence including the state of the Wallabies.

The All Blacks beat Argentina by about 30 points in a "close" test, and they have now crushed the hopelessly naive Springboks by a similar margin without even playing well.

They won going away even though Beauden Barrett hardly fired a shot, Ben Smith was below par, there was a fullback on the wing, and the midfield combo was workmanlike to put it very nicely. Even super locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick were borderline AWOL compared to their usual efforts.

Test rugby isn't a development zone, or it shouldn't be. Who cares if the Springboks are blooding a team? And even if they are, what's the bet it will be inferior to the team the All Blacks are always blooding.


I hate to say this, but there was also a spell during the game which gave some substance to complaints the All Blacks get favourable treatment from match officials.

As commentator Justin Marshall - the fairest man behind the TV rugby mike we've had for a long time - noted, a Matt Todd obstruction should have seen the Ardie Savea try ruled out. But wait, there's more: Savea didn't appear to ground the ball but a video check was not called for.

Most embarrassing of all, Ryan Crotty was allowed to throw a long pass that was so forward it landed in October. Then Wyatt Crockett got away with going out of his way to block Francois Hougaard, who was chasing a kick.

Take all those decisions away, and the 'Boks would still have been crushed. That's the worry.