Vicious McCaw sledge sums up All Blacks woes

A vicious sledge directed at All Blacks captain Sam Cane rubbed salt in the wound of New Zealand’s growing rugby woes.

Ireland warrior Peter O’Mahony delivered the cutting assessment during the historic win in Dunedin on Saturday night.

“Who do you think you are? You’re a shit Richie McCaw pal,” O’Mahony reportedly said in reference to Cane’s legendary predecessor as the Kiwi No.7.

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It all confirmed the nagging fear that has settled in the back of the minds of NZ rugby fans in recent years – the All Blacks no longer are the best team in the world and may not be again, for a while at least.

Ireland’s 23-12 victory that sent the three-Test series to a decider was historic but not unexpected.

If there had been a canary in the gold mine, warning of the insidious forces behind the All Blacks’ recent decline it has been Ireland.

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The Irish hadn’t beaten New Zealand in 113 years until they did so for the first time in 2016.

They now have won four of the last seven Tests between the teams, at venues as diverse as Chicago, Dublin and Dunedin where they achieved their first ever win over the All Blacks in New Zealand.

All Blacks fans were shaken not just by the fact but the manner of the defeat.

Ireland controlled the game from the start, keeping the All Blacks under pressure, forcing them into mistakes.

At any point in the match, New Zealand was barely hanging on especially when it was reduced to 13 men twice during the first half, to 14 for all of the second spell.

Lack of discipline was the most obvious of many failings in the All Blacks performance and they now head to Wellington for Saturday’s deciding Test under unprecedented pressure.

A confident Ireland team which, having achieved an historic Test victory, now has set its sights on an even more momentous series win.

The ramifications of the All Blacks loss have been immediate.

In new world rankings released this week, NZ will drop to fourth place, matching its lowest ever ranking.

To some degree the ranking may even be generous.

The All Blacks recently have lost to England, South Africa, France and Ireland, suggesting that on disclosed form they are possibly only the fifth best team in the world.

The social media reaction of New Zealand fans also was typically harsh – All Blacks fans seldom accept any defeat with equanimity.

Many fans called for the sacking of coach Ian Foster whose popularity even before Saturday’s match was low.

Others called for captain Sam Cane to go.

Fans separately called the All Blacks performance awful, painful, tragic, a shambles and a farce.

Foster, at his most sombre during a post-game news conference, matched that mood and called the performance “unacceptable” and “sub-standard.”

In the week leading up to the final Test, Foster said: “we’ve just got to trust ourselves and trust what we do and ultimately back your own skill level. That’s something we’ve got to go away and work hard on.”

If New Zealand loses again next weekend, the odds that Foster will lead the All Blacks to next year’s World Cup in France will shrink substantially.

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The cause of the recent poor form is hard to define.

Northern hemisphere teams unquestionably have improved, often under the guidance of Kiwi coaches who were unable to find positions in their own country.

England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all won Tests against southern hemisphere opponents at the weekend to send their series to deciding matches.

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One important factor is that the standard of Super Rugby – the southern hemisphere’s main professional competition – has fallen, especially since South African teams quit the competition to play in the northern hemisphere.

The tournament no longer serves its purpose of developing players of Test calibre.

At the same time, NZ Rugby has been distracted from the deterioration in the standard of the domestic game while pursuing a deal with the California-based tech investor Silver Lake which it regards as essential to ensure the financial health of rugby in NZ.

With Australia now considering quitting Super Rugby in 2024, a decisive move is needed to create a new competition which can underpin the strength of future All Blacks teams.

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