By Wynne Gray
The flimsy world rugby order was exposed again at the weekend when the All Blacks suffered the worst defeat in their 96-year test history.
Instead of bringing home the Bledisloe Cup to go with the Tri-Nations trophy, a chastened All Black team packed some insecurity alongside their work clothes yesterday for the flight home from Sydney.
They had been hammered 28-7 at Stadium Australia by the Wallabies to reveal how fragile some of the form and results forecast about the World Cup could become later this year. It was the heaviest test loss for New Zealand since they began that international rugby road against Australia in Sydney in 1903.
After five steady wins this season had repaired much of the country's confidence in the team, for some reason the All Blacks played worse than even they did last year during their wretched five-game losing run.
That erratic form fluctuation will be the greatest concern for the national selectors, who appeared to have the All Blacks back into a much more mature approach this year.
But in front of a world record rugby test crowd of 107,052, the All Blacks reproduced some of the bumbling, indecisive rugby they delivered in games like the loss to the Wallabies in Christchurch last year.
Under consistent pressure for the first time this season, the All Blacks folded.
On an historic night, all the records went to the Australians. The crowd total, biggest margin over their transtasman rivals, most penalty goals, seven, by Matthew Burke.
Some air travellers who left Sydney about the start of the test to avoid the massive gridlock which is gripping the Olympic city, thought the pilot had messed up the scoreline when he relayed it over the PA system.
But back in Sydney, the All Blacks were conceding they had been outplayed, out-thought and "out-passioned in every facet" as Andrew Mehrtens conceded.
For captain Taine Randell it was a return to the nightmares of 1998. He did not try to hide from the brutality of the side's poor form.
"The way we played was worse than anything we offered in 1998," he confessed. "We did not prepare well - our last training was shocking. It was sloppy and we need to get some of our focus back."
Asked if he was prepared for the flurry of national discontent which would accost the All Blacks again, Randell said his team had not finished the test programme in any style. However the announcement of the World Cup squad today might be a timely diversion.
"It just showed we are not good enough as a team to take anyone lightly if we don't prepare well. At halftime we said we wanted to go out there and show what we were made of, but then it poured."
One converted try for the evening was a meagre return for the All Blacks, whose earlier form had them as favourites to take out the fourth World Cup. To play their worst match of the year as the final game in the build-up to that tournament will make many reassess that prediction.
They will wonder at the All Blacks' mental solidity.
They will ponder how the consistent stoppages whistled by Northern Hemisphere referees is negating much of the All Blacks' attacking philosophy, and how that will be repeated in the World Cup, where the All Blacks will face even bigger packs than the Wallabies.
They will need to be convinced once more that the All Black pack have the firepower to give the backs the room they crave and whether the midfield needs adjustment or Jonah Lomu has to start.
Those questions will also be addressed by the All Black coaching staff when they take the team into RWC camp later this week.