OPINION: The cheating label has been hung on the All Blacks so often it has become a badge of honour.

When rivals focus on negatives rather than positives, the All Blacks know they have them flummoxed.

This used to be a title Richie McCaw enjoyed almost exclusively because of his personal excellence in the most demanding of positions.

Quickly working out a referee’s interpretations is a crucial element of captaincy for All Blacks leader Kieran Read.

Now, in his absence, the world champion All Blacks are copping it collectively.

Calling the All Blacks cheats is an easy excuse for opposition to hide their own inadequacies, especially in the high-stakes environment of a Rugby World Cup.

The All Blacks have conceded their share of penalties at the Rugby World Cup and watched some teams convert them into points.

Of course the All Blacks “cheat” … every team does.

In international rugby cheating is a loose term for pushing the rules as far as possible and no one does it better than the All Blacks.

It’s about finding the boundaries that the referee will allow and playing to his interpretations and restrictions.

Every referee is different. You get away with what you can and accept the punishment for what you can’t.

The All Blacks will laugh off the latest rant of former Irish international Neil Francis, whose clever prose threw up enough humorous lines to raise a chuckle with even the sternest of the New Zealand management.

But the underlying sentiments from Francis were deadly serious.

It’s a sign of the frustrations facing struggling contenders like Ireland that the All Blacks are cruising along so nicely in their attempt to secure an incredible hat-trick of titles in Japan.

At a time when so much attention is being placed on the refereeing of dangerous tackles at this tournament, why not try to draw a bit of attention to New Zealand’s supposed wicked ways?

It’s been done before and will be done again, most likely in the very near future when the World Cup enters the knockout phase and the stakes rise considerably.

The tackle zone has been a huge area of contention at this Rugby World Cup.

It’s no coincidence that the latest Irish attack on the All Blacks comes as the men in green loom in their headlights as a possible quarter-final opponent. 

To suggest the All Blacks are getting preferential treatment is ridiculous.

The Kieran Read tackle in the Canadian match is a case in point.

When so much scrutiny is being placed on this area, it’s an insult to the system to suggest Read’s technique didn’t go under the microscope that the citing commissioner is using in Japan.

The All Blacks deserve better than to be lumped in with the dirty deeds every team dishes out – the sly hand in the ruck, the tackler hanging on a little too long to the fallen opponent, the player stepping over the advantage line ever so slightly, the unsuspecting shoulder used to deter a chasing opponent, or the jersey pull to slow him down.

They have won their world titles with acts of athleticism and a pace of play and accuracy that opponents haven’t been able to match.

Nothing can cheat them of those accolades.

This content was originally published here.