The All Blacks celebrate after winning the Rugby Championship.
The All Blacks celebrate after winning the Rugby Championship. Natacha Pisarenko

Why All Blacks should avoid England until World Cup

ALL this theorising whether England would beat the All Blacks isn't such a bad thing.

Rugby needs a bit of intrigue and an unanswered question gives just that.

If rugby bosses are smart, they will encourage New Zealand and England to keep avoiding each other until the 2019 World Cup. Keep the question unanswered - build the hype, the mystery and interest to create a rivalry that may be more about perception than reality. Anticipating the event is often better than living it, in much the same way that the journey can be more fun than the destination.

The last month has done plenty to strengthen the view that rugby should keep, as best it can, a few fixtures sacred. What November showed is that it's too easy to draw conclusions that aren't quite right about the overall state of various nations and, by extension, the overall strength of rugby in the respective hemispheres.

The northern hemisphere had a good November - better than usual certainly, with Ireland and England looking particularly good; Scotland emerging strongly; and France bouncing back as a side with significant potential now it is reconnecting with what makes it tick.

In contrast, Argentina went backwards; Australia had one convincing victory, two lucky escapes and two defeats; and South Africa was a shambles. The All Blacks won three from four but without their normal conviction and the amateur analysts are talking about a change in the game's power base. After four southern hemisphere teams made the World Cup semi-finals in 2015, the game has undergone a transformation apparently with the northern teams now setting the standards and leading the way.

Everyone sees a fixture between the world No.1 All Blacks and the world No.2 England as the best way to determine where supremacy lies: the game that would tip the balance.

But the danger with this is that inter-hemisphere Tests between World Cups are not a true barometer of anything. The reality is that by November, the southern hemisphere sides are clinging on physically and mentally after 10 solid months at the coalface. The All Blacks were proof of that - showing obvious signs of fatigue in their final Test in Paris. They had no real snap to their game in much the same way that when Wales was in New Zealand in June, it didn't have enough in its tank to genuinely put the All Blacks under pressure at any stage.

Just as the southern teams struggle in November, so too do the northern teams have their issues in June. This pattern is not new. England beat the All Blacks in December 2012, took them to the wire at Twickenham in November 2013 and seven months later, they were beaten three times in New Zealand - properly thumped in the last test when they had just about nothing left to give.

It's just not wise, then, to make hard and fast, sweeping conclusions outside of World Cups and that's why keeping England and the All Blacks apart until then will create more interest.

Some truths, though, have clearly emerged. England and Ireland are good teams. They are well coached and have depth and understanding of what they are trying to do. South Africa is in trouble - it is not well coached and doesn't have a good idea of what it is trying to do.

Beyond that, though, it's hard to be definitive and judgment is best reserved until the World Cup, which is the only time that teams from both hemispheres come together at the same stage - or close enough - in their respective seasons. It is the only time when there is no obvious, embedded advantage to any team and, as a result, it is the right time to judge.

And that's why it would make sense for New Zealand and England to avoid each other until 2019. For the debate about who is best to escalate for another three years and then have a chance for the answer to be definitive in Japan.

Gregor Paul is the New Zealand Herald's rugby writer.

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