All Blacks asking questions of world game

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    20 Sep 2017     Getty Images

That was the opinion of The Guardian rugby writer Robert Kitson, who saw ramifications for the global game in the result, two years out from the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
"The Springboks were supposed to be improving, the men in black still rebuilding. What if this yawning gap widens further between now and 2019? Only the most sand-obsessed ostrich could ignore the possible ramifications," he said.

"Because, without any question, a permanently sub-par Springbok side dangerously weakens the whole of Test rugby. The international game is not commercially bulletproof worldwide and relies on its trusty mix of delicious anticipation and competitive tension to keep interest alive."

With South Africa's aura lost – they've lost 14 of their last 16 Tests against New Zealand – their best players were increasingly heading overseas and its superpower status may be gone.

"One of South Africa's most seasoned observers expressed it perfectly: Saturday was South Africa's darkest night and there may not be a dawn," he said.

Kitson pointed to other concerns in the world game. Australia had only 14,229 turn up at Canberra for the Test against Argentina at the weekend. Argentina had last 13 of their last 15 Tests while the assurance that Sevens would continue at the Olympic Games until at least 2024 had the ability to destabilise the 15-man game in the way Twenty20 has affected Test cricket.

France had only won the Six Nations once in a decade, Samoa was slipping, concussion and player welfare were significant issues, Premiership players were becoming more militant while none of the big clubs were making profits.

"All these issues have been variously flagged up before; the difference is that many are now flocking home to roost simultaneously. The Lions tour was a wonderful anachronism, temporarily blinding all of us to major issues elsewhere," he said.

With only England shaping as a possible World Cup contender with the All Blacks, Kitson said a predictable two-horse race would be another negative to add to the list.

"While England are by no means yet the finished article, their 19 wins in 20 Tests under Eddie Jones do make them legitimate contenders. But if they cannot stop the All Blacks then who will?

"Joe Schmidt's Ireland, who have never been beyond the quarter-finals at any World Cup, an improving but still inconsistent Scotland or a Wales team awaiting an infusion of fresh blood? At this precise moment a black and white-dominated World Cup feels more likely.

"At least the Celts on the summer Lions tour now know the All Blacks are not entirely invincible. With every passing day two things become clearer: what a fine job the Lions' coaches did back in June and July under the most demanding circumstances and how lucky they were the All Blacks never managed to put all their most influential backs on the field collectively," he said.

At full strength, the range of options and attacking possibilities open to the All Blacks bordered on the obscene, he said.

There were always hopes for dramatic turnarounds in the two years before the Cup.

"Perhaps New Zealand's galloping new breed of forwards such as Vaea Fifita, Ardie Savea and the fast-rising young internet sensation Asafo Aumua will get distracted by onrushing fame or injuries will slow down some of England's exciting young wannabes.

"Rather more important, frankly, is the growing need to preserve 15-man Test rugby across the globe. The next two years, for better or worse, could profoundly shape professional rugby's future," Kitson said.