In a week where the All Blacks mystique has been commercially manufactured in documentary format by Amazon Prime, its fragility has also been highlighted by an unforgiving glare.

In a timely reminder of the principles of hubris, just when the All Blacks peel back the blinds to show the world how one of history's greatest sporting machines work, in real time they might just be in need of a service.

While the All Blacks appear to be a well-oiled apparatus, the reality is they are made up of finely calibrated human parts. And there's nothing quite as spectacularly unreliable as a human.


Even the Golden Boys of Barrettville can lose a little lustre at 5am. Young Jordie struggled to work out whether he was embarrassed about a) being up at 5am after an insipid loss to the Highlanders; b) adding McDonald's to a high-performance diet; c) ending up in the wrong house eating said meal approximately eight hours after said performance, or; d) not embarrassed, just disappointed.

Barrett's big night out would rank very low on the scale of misadventure. If anything, it was a near harmless primer into the world of the public eye, which was a lot safer eye to be in than Rieko Ioane's.

The wing with the world at his feet would not have improved coach Steve Hansen's mood as he ventured into the storm of his eye.

Again, like Barrett, Ioane's contretemps was silly rather than Darwinian. I mean, who hasn't ended up in A&E having a relatively important part of your face being glued back together after a bit of "tomfoolery" with a teammate?

If these were the start and end of the All Blacks' issues there would be only the slightest cause for concern, but maybe there is something gnawing away at the Pasmo Delta fabric of this side. Something a little more difficult to quantify, but if I had to choose one number it would be this: 1991.

I'm old enough to remember 1991. Not clearly enough to pinpoint specific moments when I knew it was all going tits-up, but enough to remember that in 1988 and 1989 the All Blacks seemed borderline untouchable and prohibitive favourites to lift back-to-back Webb Ellises, until August 1990 when they suddenly weren't.

That was when a younger, hungrier (not Barrett Big Mac hungry, either) Wallabies side turned them over at Athletic Park.

There was enough noise around the team, particularly the unceremonious dumping of iconic captain Wayne Shelford and the late inclusion of John Hart to the coaching team, for concern, but the collective myopia of New Zealand rugby fans remained. It was not until the same side knocked the All Blacks out of the World Cup at Lansdowne Road that all the experts surmised that yeah, things hadn't actually been that flash for a year or so.

That was my memory of it anyway, and memories can be capricious. As can feelings, and that's all this 1991 comparison is at this stage.

Still, there is plenty of "noise" around the All Blacks, just like 1990.

(Then again there always is now: smartphones and the 24-hour news cycle demand that there's never a dull moment.)

Hansen's failure to get everybody outside Team All Blacks on board with his disruptive camps is possibly indicative of a disconnect in the machine.

As was the careless series-that-got-away against the Lions.

And the sloppy loss in Brisbane.

And the churlishness over Brad Shields' defection.

And the rotten state of rugby in the country's biggest city.

Yes, there are plenty of differences between now and '91, too, most notably an ability to keep churning out exceptional young talent; talent that has the qualities of respect for the jersey and humility indoctrinated into them.

Talent like Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane for example.


Initially thought this feature was let down by a poorly executed lede but on second reading it just about works. And this line is a cracker: "… while it is generally considered gauche to murder someone at one of these fights, everything short of that is pretty much fine." This is an inside look at football fan violence in Russia, from ESPN.

If you're like me you find tennis on clay about as interesting as being kept on hold while trying to call the bank, you might be tempted to skip this. That would be wrong though, because fivethirtyeight's deep dive into Rafael Nadal's claycourt success is genuinely diverting.