Scott Hamilton Interview: All Blacks v South Africa "is the game the rugby world are waiting for"

The location of New Zealand's remaining Rugby Championship fixtures are now up in the air due to Covid-19

In the aftermath of their World Cup semi-final loss to England, there hasn’t been much for New Zealand to bang the drum about.

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic halted everything in society but as rugby gradually made its return, it wasn’t really business as usual for the All Blacks.

During the last 10 months, they have suffered defeats against Australia, and for the first time in their history Argentina, leading to wider doubts about the direction New Zealand were going in.

After breezing past Tonga and navigating their way to successive victories against a physical and tenacious Fiji outfit in July, the All Blacks have slowly begun to show signs of reverting back to their old selves.

In moments throughout Steve Hansen’s tenure with New Zealand, if the three-time world champions stuttered and spluttered during the first half of a game, you could safely say the All Blacks would recognise their shortcomings and turn the contest in their favour in the second 40.

In their recent opening Bledisloe Cup clash with Australia, this was exactly the case and the same tale occurred last weekend at Eden Park.

After half-time, New Zealand accelerated away from their old rivals on both occasions and it is something worth noting with potential Tests against South Africa in the diary over the next two months.

However, the location of these mouth-watering fixtures are now up in the air after NZR announced the aforementioned clashes with the Springboks won’t be played in New Zealand due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. 

The All Blacks have also cancelled their trip to Perth next weekend for their third meeting with the Wallabies because of the uncertainty surrounding The Rugby Championship schedule, with parts of Australia and the whole of New Zealand currently in lockdown.

But former All Black Scott Hamilton hopes they can still go head-to-head against South Africa.

“The New Zealand/Australia rivalry will always be there,” Hamilton told TRU. “To me, the Wallabies are a little bit behind the All Blacks at the moment. They can have periods when they show they can go toe-to-toe like in the last two games, but they don’t have the X-factor that the All Blacks have and the ability to score points quickly.

“It should be a much bigger test against the Springboks. I think these games are what the rugby world are waiting for to see what happens. I suppose it will be the attack vs the defence. There has been a lot of chat about the Springboks defence after the Lions series and rightly so, but the All Blacks have had the wood on South Africa recently.

“Obviously, South Africa won the World Cup in 2019, but the All Blacks did beat them in that World Cup. South Africa won the last Rugby Championship, but in terms of head-to-head, we have done pretty well over the last sort of 10 games. It will be interesting if it happens."

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To suggest the rebuilding process for the All Blacks ahead of the World Cup in 2023 has now begun because they have beaten Australia twice might prompt some cynical responses, but Hamilton believes getting the better of the world champions before heading into the autumn could certainly boost Foster’s stock as an international head coach.

You wouldn’t call New Zealand’s form since the last World Cup a ‘rut’, but second-best isn't part of the vocabulary when you represent the All Blacks. With that in mind, the results which Foster has overseen so far have been below the usual high standards and perhaps two potential Tests against the Springboks could prove to be the sliding doors moment in his reign.

“There has been a little bit of discontent with the coaching staff and how the All Blacks are being run at the moment,” Hamilton added.

“If you are watching the media and reading a few articles, despite the fact we have looked after Australia pretty easily, it is not necessarily happy families in terms of the fanbase.

“The New Zealand public is traditionally quite fickle, especially with the All Blacks because they expect perfection. If it is not there, they will certainly let you know about it but if they are able to beat the world champs with what South Africa did to the Lions, it would be a good marker and certainly a good way for Ian Foster to take another step in winning over the New Zealand public.”

Before they partake in their scheduled double header against the world champions, New Zealand's next fixtures are supposed to come against Argentina but because of Covid-19 travel restrictions, they could be played abroad.

The southern hemisphere governing body, Sanzaar, are reportedly considering moving the rest of The Rugby Championship to Europe to ensure the competition can be completed.

The recent British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa very much fell in line with Covid-19 protocols, but despite the restrictions, the series did come to a natural conclusion.

From a rugby fan’s perspective, the hope is The Rugby Championship will be able to be played in its entirety especially with the Springboks against the All Blacks providing an extra source of attraction.

Hamilton also feels the added ingredient of a Lions series win for South Africa has only helped increase the excitement around the two fixtures, which includes a 100th Test match between the sides.

“I still have the All Blacks as favourites!” he said. “I have got a few South African mates over here as well and the hype and the banter has already started on certain groups and the bets have already started flying!

“I think we know what we are going to get from South Africa, but it will be interesting to see how Ian Foster and the team respond and are able to counteract the South Africa defence and their set-piece if the games go ahead.

“Whilst the Lions series wasn’t the most attractive, at the end of the day, you are there to win a game of rugby and that is what the Springboks did. We know the Lions were a bloody good side, but the way they play and the way the All Blacks are trying to go about it is going to be totally different. I am just looking forward to seeing hopefully good games of rugby and some very competitive ones too.”