The All Blacks and Springboks truly are the top sides in World Rugby at the moment, there is no doubt about it. The real question however is, who is number 1 and who is playing second fiddle? There is only a single game left of the 2021 International season, so we take a look at the year as a whole and there is only one conclusion, the Springboks are the Worlds number 1 side.
If you listen to the continued rants of Ben Smith, you may be mislead into believing the All Blacks are still this untouchable side with an aura about them. Clearly, he forgot to inform the Irish of his stance prior to this past weekend, as they put in a clinical performance and in doing so, slayed the once mighty All Blacks.
If one looks at the stats in terms of tries scored, total points in a season etc. you may also believe it is still the All Blacks who sit at the top, looking down at the rest of the teams. So let me remind you, for all the kiwis have achieved this year, very little of it has come against quality top tier opposition. When the All Blacks have faced an in-form side, they have lost 2/3 and may just extend that record to include the French this coming weekend.
Back-to-back wins over Fiji (60-13 &; 57 -23) and a 102-0 rampage over Tonga mean little in the grand scheme of things. The islanders boast quality players but they simply don’t have the structures in place, nor the financing and backing of World Rugby to truly threaten the likes of the All Blacks. It is a nice way for the New Zealanders to inflate their 2021 score card though and appease their die-hard fans along the way.
On the back of this the All Blacks beat the Aussies 3 times, whilst a decent achievement overall, their dominance over their neighbors is well documented, with no current Australian player ever having held the Bledisloe cup. They got one over on the Springboks in game 1, which accounts for their 1st major win of 2021. They then had the score reversed in another tight fixture. Albeit one must bare in mind that playing in Australia is hardly a stretch for the island neighbors even with isolation protocols. They were essentially playing in their back yard.
The All Blacks then headed off to America where they faced the Eagles and snapped up a 104 - 14 win, inclusive of 16 tries. Another easy game for the 'superpower' of World Rugby. The All Blacks then beat a depleted Wales 40 -17 before being thoroughly outclassed by the Irish side, losing the game 29 -20. So now here we sit, one game left against France this weekend, the young and rejuvenated Les Bleus will be well aware that now is a good a time as any to slay the Kiwis.
The Springboks have had the polar opposite to their Southern Hemisphere counterparts. After an 18 month absence, the Boks had their first hit out against Georgia, arguably their easiest game of the season. They then couldn't play the 2nd fixture due to a Covid outbreak. Their next taste of international rugby came against the British & Irish Lions. They lost the 1st fixture, and whether or not you believe it was due to Nic Berry, is inconsequential as they went on to win the next two and seal the series. After such a long period of time, they were able to put away the best of a combined UK side.
From there the Boks managed two wins on home soil against Argentina (32-12 & 2 9-0) before heading off to Australia. The Boks suffered a narrow loss to the Aussies in game 1 (28-26) , before being blown out the water in the second fixture (30-17). The Boks then went on to face the All Blacks in the famed 100th fixture, losing 19 -17. The next weekend the Boks won 31 -29. Their four toughest fixtures were played away from home and under much harsher isolation protocols than that faced by New Zealand.
The Boks then faced a weakened Welsh side, albeit better stocked than that the kiwis faced the week before (23-18). A massive performance followed against Scotland with the Boks doubling down on the hosts with a 30-15 victory. Bear in mind Scotland are not the minnows they once were, having toppled the Aussies the week before. All in all the Boks have played top 10 teams the entire year, with Georgia being the only exception.
The All Blacks may look at their season and see a higher win percentage than that of the Springboks, but it is in the quality of the opposition faced and the obstacles which had to be overcome on the way, which speak to who truly is the worlds best side. A win against England this weekend, even if the All Blacks overcome France will only cement their place in history even further. I hardly believe this is same quality team that had one of the greatest runs in rugby history.