COMMENT

At some stage the All Blacks‘ extraordinary unbeaten run at Eden Park will come to an end.

Mind you, generations of Welsh rugby supporters since 1953 thought they would see a test win against the men in black but they‘ve shuffled off to the waiting room in the sky.

If the reign at Eden Park ends tonight the earth will shift on its axis, the Wallabies will collect their first triumph on the Park since 1986 and Kiwis will have to muster up their humility.

Advertisement

Defeat would be extra unpalatable largely because of the unlovable public demeanour of Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.

Family and friends who know him well, his teams and others will vouch for his warmth and intellect but when he hauls on his public coaching kit Cheika is transformed. That perception brings an extra Kiwi yearning to keep the Wallabies off the victory podium tonight.

If defeat comes at the famous ground – and that may not occur if it‘s replaced in our lifetime by a decent stadium – who would Kiwis most accept as their conquerors?

Imagine the never-ending party if it was Fiji, Tonga or Samoa whose connections and impact on the All Blacks have grown enormously in the last three decades. Remember the joyful impact of Tongan fans at the opening game in the 2011 World Cup who delivered one of the best atmospheres at any test.

English fans give it plenty too but their team would sit alongside the current Wallabies in the “over my dead body” category. Perhaps it‘s an innate trait for Kiwis but losing to the toffs of the game, who have more resources than any nation, would rate alongside a defeat to Cheika and his crew.

France were the last side to beat the All Blacks at Eden Park in 1994 when they uncorked their graceful try from the end of the world to win the series and bury the All Blacks in a season of uncertainty.

They were so close to repeating that dose in the 2011 World Cup final so let‘s leave them off the list of acceptable conquerors. Who will get that chance?

The international itinerary has been mapped out by World Rugby for the next decade but the schedule is being kept under lock and key next to a list of progressive plans for the organisation.

Ireland stunned themselves and the world when they deservedly got their historic victory in Chicago two years ago and losing to them under coach Joe Schmidt on his old Super Rugby territory wouldn‘t be the worst and publicans would be in clover. Falling to Wales would carry a similar sentiment.

There won‘t be any June tests next year because of the World Cup in Japan but after Super Rugby is done, the Springboks may get an Eden Park gig in the shortened test programme. For those of us schooled in the history of the game when test series were infrequent and film coverage was patchy, the Springboks were the greatest opposition.

Stories of those fierce contests and the All Blacks‘ inability to claim a series in South Africa created an unrivalled interest in matches between the nations.

Author Warwick Roger, who put down his quill for the final time this week, captured all that fervour when he penned his outstanding book Old Heroes about the visit from the 1956 Springboks.

After several poor seasons ladled with coaching and political troubles, the Boks have the look of a better unit under the guidance of Rassie Erasmus. For all their fearsome work on the pitch the Boks are a most courteous team and have brought a more organised style and discovered enough athletes and a new captain Siya Kolisi to help the political climate.

The Springboks are the old enemy from a nation where rugby evokes historical respect and current pride. If the All Blacks are the current Muhammad Ali of rugby, the Springboks have the look of Joe Frazier and someone to respect in victory or defeat.