Wellington - The All Blacks' ability to seal the Rugby Championship with two rounds
remaining highlighted the burgeoning gap between the world champions and
the rest of the sides, though the team were not prepared to let their
final games become footnotes.
Their 41-13 bonus-point victory over the Springboks in Christchurch on
Saturday gave them their 15th successive win stretching back to last
year and the title was confirmed when Australia beat Argentina 36-20 in
The All Blacks, playing a fast-paced and high skill style, have the
maximum 20 points from the four games, with Australia second on nine
points. The best total the Wallabies could finish with is 19. South
Africa have six and Argentina five points.
"It's very satisfying," assistant coach Ian Foster told reporters on
Sunday. "I guess wrapping up the Championship is more of a consequence
of us playing some really good rugby and the way some of the other
results have gone.
"Certainly pleasing to have it done after four rounds, but in reality it doesn't change much, does it?
"We've still got two games on the road, our expectations are high and I'm sure the public's are too so we've got to keep going."
The All Blacks travel to Buenos Aires on Friday for their next match
against Argentina on October 1 before they finish the competition
against the struggling Springboks in Durban a week later.
If they win those two matches, they would extend their winning run to 17
consecutive matches, equalling a world record among top-tier nations
that was achieved by the Springboks from 1997-98 and the All Blacks from
1965-69 and again in 2013-14.
The challenge of facing fired-up Pumas and Springboks sides in their own
backyards aside, coach Steve Hansen has already said he is likely to
shake up his selections to ensure players do not burn out before the end
of year tour.
Completing the Rugby Championship schedule undefeated would also mean
the third Bledisloe Cup clash with Australia at Eden Park on October 22
would take on some actual meaning as the potential record breaker.
Of added significance is that the Wallabies have also halted two lengthy
winning runs by the All Blacks in recent years, stopping their streak
at 16 games in 2012 with an 18-18 draw.
They then stopped the 2014 streak at 17 games with a 12-12 draw.
Foster said the history was one of the factors driving the team, though
making sure they improved each week was far more important as they build
towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
"It sounds a little bit more interesting," he said of the record before adding their overall focus was more long-term.
"It's about challenging ourselves to be the best we can be."