The Rugby Championship – and New Zealand – needs an All Blacks loss

Stuff

The 33-man All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship.

OPINION: The signs for the All Blacks are good this weekend.

Thus far the subplot involving Beauden Barrett has concentrated on his competition from Richie Mo’unga but there is another one.

Without making any presumptions about what happened at the Hurricanes this year, Barrett bounced into that first All Blacks test against France in June.

If Barrett delivers on Saturday night it may be a reflection at his contentment of moving from a Super Rugby campaign that had its bumps into an All Blacks side where the presence of so many world-class players brings a clear definition to his role.

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That performance paradox – the higher the standard the easier it gets – has been a frequent storyline for many All Blacks over the years and Barrett could write his own chapter in Sydney.

Yet for the rewards that promises to bring there is a more challenging conversation to be had about the Rugby Championship as a whole.

The All Blacks have not lost a game in TRC for two years, and the structure of the competition is such that by the end of September 8, when the All Blacks host Argentina in Nelson before the Wallabies entertain the Springboks, it could almost be wrapped up.   

Sanzaar is aware of it. The future of the competition is under discussion

That is welcome but the jolt the competition needs is some uncertainty of outcome. It needs an All Blacks loss in Sydney this weekend. 

You can safely bet Beauden Barrett will perform in Sydney but the All Blacks' domination has created another set of ...

KAI SCHWOERER/GETTY IMAGES

You can safely bet Beauden Barrett will perform in Sydney but the All Blacks’ domination has created another set of challenges.

Entertaining the possibility of an All Blacks loss is not a petty or punitive thought. There is no sense they need one to puncture hubris or, to borrow a Hansenism, to give themselves a wee uppercut.

In fact, New Zealand is among the nations who would benefit, at least in the longer term.

It was interesting to read Barrett’s quotes in a new book, The Jersey

“It just does annoy me when the general public bring people down to earth when really, we should be applauding great achievements,” Barrett was quoted as saying.

“Whereas overseas, you do really appreciate the support you get over there for what the All Blacks achieve.”

He is half right. New Zealand is no more negative towards its successful people than anywhere else.

New Zealanders need to feel the sting of defeat to appreciate the All Blacks' recent scale of victories.

PHOTOSPORT

New Zealanders need to feel the sting of defeat to appreciate the All Blacks’ recent scale of victories.

But New Zealand is unique in the sense no other nation gets to experience winning at such a high rate. 

And that is the danger of winning – in fact, not just winning, but domination. Perhaps, just perhaps, New Zealanders have lost how to appreciate achievement.

That is not a poor reflection on them but a statement of human nature. The sheer scale of the All Blacks’ victories can be overwhelming. 

Of course, critical thinking towards the All Blacks has always been part of New Zealand. But some of the reaction to All Blacks’ victories is trending towards joylessness these days.

We are all sinners here.

Barely has the whistle blown on another victory and the attention turns towards who didn’t quite hit the heights and whose place is under threat. 

In fact, familiarity fatigue is becoming an issue for the All Blacks as an organisation.

Steve Hansen is like that a prime minister who has the economy humming but then turns to the electorate to find some pining for alternatives because “It’s time”. 

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All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara says Beauden Barrett has been the best player in the world for a couple of years.

So forgive the neutral if this weekend they grab a green and gold scarf, for 80 minutes at least.

It does not mean they hate the All Blacks, it means they love the uncertainty of sport. 

And it may even mean they want New Zealanders to once again feel the thrill of a victory when beforehand the outcome was uncertain.

 – Stuff

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