It’s been a rough couple of years for the once seemingly indestructible All Blacks. The team that has spent the better part of two decades dominating the sport was left reeling after a stinging semi-final loss at the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic has essentially stifled any opportunity for the AB’s to get back on track in the two years since. The 2020 test schedule was been heavily abbreviated and the handful of games we did see went far from according to plan. Although they came away with the overall victory in the impromptu Tri Nations series with Australia and Argentina, the performances lacked consistency and they came with a somewhat disappointing record of 3 wins, 2 losses and a draw from their six matches. But 2021 has brought back some semblance of normality, as after a handful of comfortable warm up test wins against Tonga and Fiji respectively, the All Blacks will begin their quest to reestablish themselves as the dominate force in world rugby this weekend.
It all kicks off this Saturday night with the first Bledisloe Cup test against our old rival, Australia. One week later, the Rugby Championship returns after a hiatus in 2020, with another home test against the Wallabies (which will also count toward the Bledisloe Cup. Yes, it’s a needlessly confusing system). The next seven weeks will see the AB’s play a third and potentially decisive test against the Wallabies in Perth on August 28, two tests against the no longer overmatched Pumas of Argentina (who claimed their first ever win over the All Blacks in 2020) on September 11 and 18, before finishing up with absolute blockbusters against the team that usurped them of their world number 1 ranking in 2019, the Springboks of South Africa. Those two games, which if the form guides are to be followed, could decide the whole competition, will both be played on home soil, firstly in Dunedin on September 25, then back in Auckland on October 2.
But it all starts on Saturday at Eden Park, where the All Blacks will certainly have history on their side, as the Wallabies haven’t beaten them at the home of New Zealand rugby in 35 years. Much of the headlines in the lead up have been chronicling the potential appearance of former Aussie superstar Quade Cooper. You may remember Cooper from the early 2010’s, where he frequently sparred with various AB’s stars including captain Richie McCaw and was often the target of Kiwi fans and media ire. While he has been left out of the lineup at least for Saturday’s test, don’t rule out a Cooper appearance in tests two or three if things start heading south for the Wallabies.
Regardless of whether they’re are able to retake the mantle of world rugby’s top dog, I think we all will appreciate the All Blacks returning to something resembling their regular international rugby schedule. After all, with the Rugby League World Cup postponed and the Warriors, well, the less said the better, a good All Blacks run is our last hope to put the Aussie’s back in their place on a rugby pitch in 2021.