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New Zealand has high expectations of All Blacks

At the time of writing, England are yet to face the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the Euro 2024 football tournament.

I was thinking about that team in terms of the way we talk about and treat the All Blacks.

England’s performance at the European Championships has not been brilliant, giving rise to two conflicting narratives.

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Video Spacer

First, they are still in the tournament and should be praised for it. No, the quality of their football has not reached expected levels, but all that matters is winning.

The other is that they are trash. They are an embarrassment.

Manager Gareth Southgate is incompetent and the players are shadows of their club football identities.

It’s a topic that has been addressed by former players, pundits, media and fans.

They all expected or were expecting better, and they were very frank in saying so.

One or two players have also spoken out against these criticisms in the pool and now knockout stages of the tournament.

Personally, I like it.

I appreciate that people are unafraid to voice their displeasure, and that players are responding instead of resorting to the usual lies that they disregard or completely ignore opinions outside their bubble.

I think All Blacks rugby will be made stronger by similar criticism from everyone.

It’s frankly pathetic to glorify players and teams.

But this is a secondary aspect of the matter.

What really struck me here – when I tried to compare England’s players to our All Blacks – was the insane levels of expectations.

As I sit here I think the All Blacks should have beaten the England rugby team by 20 points in Auckland on Saturday night, just as I thought they would have beaten them by a large margin in Dunedin last week.

New Zeland

England

It made me wonder, like those who care about English football, whether we are over-estimating our players and being chronically ignorant and indifferent to our opponents.

I’m guessing most of us aren’t fans of English Premier League Rugby.

We watch Super Rugby Pacific and see our better players often symbolically taking on opposing teams and we assume they should do the same against every team they face.

We look at what works at the franchise level and assume that will be enough to beat out test competitors as well.

I have always operated on the principle that excellence is the benchmark for All Black teams.

The team not only needs to strive for this, but also achieve it regularly.

Anything less and we will sink forever into the swamp of mediocrity.

But when I saw the All Blacks do an incredible job beating England 16-15 last week, I got the feeling that some of these players weren’t that good.

Or at least they are not as good as we imagined or hoped for.

Is it a sign of failure on the part of successive coaching staffs to consistently stick to a game plan that most of us think isn’t working? Or are they simply doing the best they can with what they have?

I was surprised by the way the All Blacks tried to play in Dunedin, but was that because my expectations were completely misplaced?

I really do not know.

Hopefully we will get an answer as Scott Robertson’s tenure as head coach continues.

In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with voicing our displeasure at performances. If that motivates players to cram those words down our throats – as happened to the England football team – then we will all be better off for it.