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May 31, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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The reverse sweep

Following a bitterly disappointing Super 14 campaign for New Zealand’s franchises, the short-term future appears somewhat uncertain for the All Blacks. With the Steinlager Series and Tri Nations coming up in the next couple of months, the time is ripe to up the ante and regain our usual levels of respectability.

The 2010 Super 14 season was New Zealand’s second worst season since 1996, with less than two Kiwi sides making the semi-finals for just the second time, as well as the absence of a Kiwi representative in the final for just the third time. Over the years there has been a fairly accurate correlation between Super Rugby form and Tri Nations performances. Although the All Blacks are currently equal favourites with the Springboks (at the TAB), they will likely go into the Tri Nations with less confidence than usual.

Ultimately, of course, all international rugby played from now on is in preparation for next year’s World Cup. While there may be concern that the All Blacks are slipping off the pace from the likes of the in-form South Africans, the TAB still (as usual) has us as favourites to win in 2011.

The All Blacks have been the form side going into all previous World Cups in the professional era. As this form has consistently failed to lead to World Cup success, there is no reason to suggest that going into 2011 as underdogs would be a disadvantage. In addition, if history is anything to go by, it can be deduced that home advantage has influenced results somewhat; significantly including the All Blacks’ victory at the original World Cup in 1987 (co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia). The ‘Baby Blacks’ were undoubtedly dark horses at best, having lost the majority of their first-choice side to the rebel Cavaliers which toured South Africa.

The All Blacks’ chances in the Tri Nations are further in jeopardy, thanks to the extensive injury woes currently being felt. Utility back Isaiah Toeava is the latest on a star-studded casualty list which includes the likes of Ma’a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Mike Delany, Andrew Hore, Mils Muliaina and Ali Williams.

The Steinlager Series (against Ireland and Wales) should give us at least some idea of how the All Blacks are shaping up, and should give the coaches a chance to organise the squad for what is shaping up to be another competitive Tri Nations.

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