“Entertaining to watch the furore when All Blacks are in trouble”

Just how good is southern hemisphere rugby at the present time? It’s incredibly hard to tell, but one thing’s for certain, it isn’t the imperious force that it once was.

An understrength England recently beat the Wallabies, and, just in case your Irish friends omitted to mention it, Ireland beat the All Blacks, while Wales, beaten by lowly Italy in the Six Nations, came up just short against the world champions, South Africa.

Now the SANZAAR nations are all playing each other in the Rugby Championship, but I’m not sure we’ll learn a lot more about the international pecking order. A perfect example was the first Test between South Africa and New Zealand, played in front of a rabidly patriotic crown at the packed Mbonbela Stadium in Nelspruit. Based on what we saw against Ireland and then South Africa, Ian Foster’s iteration of the All Blacks weren’t fit to lace the boots of their illustrious predecessors. The old cliché is that a team can do no more than beat what’s in front of them, and while the Springboks’ defence was powerful and ruthlessly committed, just how good did they have to be?

I really enjoyed the match – I generally do when the All Blacks lose, which is a compliment to how good they’ve historically been – but I think we learned very little about what’s going to happen in France next year. Despite New Zealand’s win in the second Test against a lacklustre South Africa yesterday, I’m still not sure Eddie Jones, Andy Farrell, or Fabien Galthié will be unduly worried.

What is always entertaining is watching the furore that always breaks out whenever the All Blacks are in trouble. It’s as if climate change, the war in Ukraine, tensions in Taiwan, and so on, all pale into insignificance in New Zealand compared with a bad result in a rugby match – national disaster isn’t overstating it! In some ways it’s great that rugby is so important down there, but on the other hand there are far bigger things to worry about than the bounce of an oval ball!

There was a furore over the commentary for Sky’s coverage of the Argentina v Australia Test, where all of the usual suspects were missing, and we were left with a couple of commentators whose first language wasn’t English. Maybe I’m a lone voice in this, but I rather enjoyed it, and much preferred it to the partisan stuff we normally get from southern hemisphere commentators and pundits.

I gather the sound was a World Rugby feed, and what some heard as a lack of enthusiasm, for me was a lack of hysteria. Commentary is a deeply personal thing, and for me it can too often be a distraction – it points you to what the commentator and pundits think you should be watching rather than what you’d actually see if you turned the sound off. Just as you see far more of a game on television than you do at a match, I twigged early that I wasn’t going to learn much from the Argentinian commentators – their English, by the way, is infinitely better than my Spanish – so I turned the sound down and enjoyed the game, even if the wrong team won!

For exclusive stories and all the detailed rugby news you need, subscribe to The Rugby Paper website, digital edition, or newspaper from as little as 14p a day.