All Blacks remain closest thing to a sporting certainty

Infinite supply of Pacific Islanders assists pursuit of invincibility

Waisake Naholo is tackled by Argentina’s Tomas Cubelli during New Zealand’s 39-18 victory Christchurch. Photograph: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images

Waisake Naholo is tackled by Argentina’s Tomas Cubelli during New Zealand’s 39-18 victory Christchurch. Photograph: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images

 

Waisake Naholo briefly ignited, gliding past four Argentinian bodies before two tacklers hauled the 102kg winger to earth. “You might not think he’s moving fast but, believe me, he is,” insisted former All Black scrumhalf Justin Marshall in the commentary box.

Exactly two months until the World Cup begins and New Zealand have just pulverised Ireland’s other possible quarter-final opponent 39-18 in Christchurch. Argentina conceded five tries despite being defensively and structurally excellent for long periods.

But Naholo represents a subplot, with wider reaching consequences for rugby as a global game. The 24-year-old is the latest in a long line of freakish wingers on the cusp of stardom. Just not for the country of his birth.

Naholo left Fiji when he was 17. Yesterday was his maiden voyage under black sails. The scouts scattered to mine the rugby-rich Pacific islands missed a trick there. Similarly awesome physical specimens are scooped up even earlier by the lure of an education scholarship (New Zealand and Australia) or an academy contract (France and England).

“We knew he could achieve better things in terms of studies and rugby,” Waisake’s father, Aporosa Naholo, told the New Zealand Herald.

The chance of a better life extends to his working-class family back home in the village of Nadroumai. In fact, a lucrative contract had already been signed with Clermont Auvergne only to dissolve, at least temporarily, when the NZRU gripped the reins.

“We are under increasing amount of pressure from the NZRU,” said Clermont’s sporting director Jean-Marc Lhermet in May. “And when the All Black machine gets going, it becomes complicated.”

A move to New Zealand is a dream instilled in every Fijian boy by the sight of their great wingers – Sitiveni Sivivatu and Joe Rokocoko – dazzling in modern times. The All Blacks will continue plundering the most valuable athletic resources of the Pacific Islands before the French clubs or others can. It’s unregulated so it will be done. The lure of the famed black jersey is an irresistible force.

“If anyone has been selected to represent New Zealand or the All Blacks, it is a huge achievement here in Fiji,” added Naholo snr.

His rise is comparable to Jonah Lomu in 1995 as he was playing provincial rugby at 18, before shining on the world sevens circuit and eventually racing over for 11 tries in 17 matches this season as the Highlanders won the Super Rugby title.

Outposts

had to

Or this could just be seen as just plain wrong. Fiji should be one of the great 15-a-side nations. Naholo is the latest reason why they will never be. He also represents the reason why rugby can never become a truly global game.

Cash cows, like the sacred All Blacks and their Adidas partnership, will always be protected.

See Super Rugby’s expansion from 2016 to include franchises from Japan and Argentina. For nearly a decade now the yen has lured southern Hemisphere superstars to Japan and in four years’ time Japan will host the World Cup as the sport expands into the eastern market.

Argentina’s thrilling performances at the 2007 World Cup was enough to get them inside the tent, where they have been beaten 17 times in the Rugby Championship, winning and drawing only once. Still, it’s the only place to make genuine progress.

To truly welcome Fiji, Samoa and Tonga into the fold would would do nothing for the elite nations.

Instead we bear witness to the usual: an All Black side, second-string operators in many positions, performing with unrelenting power and skill as Christchurch bade farewell to their most talented sons, Richie McCaw (expected to retire after the World Cup) and Dan Carter (replacing Johnny Sexton at Racing Metro 92).

It would be foolish to discard Argentina on this 80 minutes. Both Puma tries were dotted down by captain and hooker Agustín Creevy after two clever lineout drives in a isolated five minutes (56-61 minutes) of attacking audacity.

Their defence was only circumnavigated, like Ireland in 2013, in the tramlines after huge runners like Luke Romano, Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino and Sonny Bill Williams sucked them in. The offloading of Williams, playing 12, and Read, playing everywhere, makes them seem unstoppable.

Immortal

A fit enough Carter – five from seven kicks at goal – appears to be timing his final international chapter nicely. The immortal McCaw abides.

Most interesting was the sight of the two best inside centres in the world playing side by side in the absence of the two best outside centres in the world. Ma Nonu crossed for a freakishly powerful try while running at 13, but Conrad Smith and the coming brilliance of Malakai Fekitoa (born in Tonga but received a scholarship to Auckland’s Wesley College at 17) must also return.

TJ Perenara looked every inch the second best scrumhalf in the world. Aaron Smith is resting. Israel Dagg performed adequately but his World Cup place looks under threat as Ben Smith and Julian Savea are almost certain to make up a back three with Naholo.

The quality across every position is comparable to their 2007 squad. A group poised to be the invincibles, France unseated them in that never-to-be-forgotten Cardiff game when we learned the All Blacks infinite supply line, from three offshore nations, will never guarantee the ultimate prize. But it does make them the closest sporting relative to death and taxes.

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