In the Rugby World Cup final the All Blacks defeated Australia 34-17 to become the first nation to retain the title. It was easy to empathise with Australia who played well, yet only looked like contenders when New Zealand were down to 14 men.
While the sporting greatness of teams is inevitably cyclical, and several New Zealand stars are expected to retire from international rugby over the coming days, the development of players such as Nehe Milner-Skudder suggests the rest of the world is going to struggle to catch up with the All Blacks by the time of the 2019 World Cup in Japan. If you overlook New Zealand’s previous tendency to choke at the World Cup, the team have been the best in the world for almost all of the past two decades. Even when they didn’t win the tournament, for example in 1995, they are widely regarded as the best team never to have lifted the trophy.
As New Zealand’s team evolves, Australia, South Africa and Argentina have demonstrated they have the ability to challenge the All Blacks if the Kiwis fail to perform at their best. Whether the Northern Hemisphere sides can do the same remains to be seen and Wales’ tour to New Zealand next summer will serve as an early litmus test. First though, there are some local rivalries to settle in the Six Nations in February.