That All Black axe is sharpening its blade
The Rugby Paper|November 22, 2020
It seemed like a joke worth telling. “What’s the difference between the All Blacks and an arsonist?”, your columnist asked the presenter of a New Zealand radio sports show in the dying weeks of 1998. “Not a clue,” came the reply. “Well…no arsonist would ever lose his last five matches.”
CHRIS HEWETT

For some peculiar reason, laughter was conspicuous by its absence. The only noise detectable across the airwaves was the dull splat of a failed punchline landing on stony ground.

New Zealand rugby folk, who make up 99.999 per cent recurring of the population, are not accustomed to finishing second more than once in a blue moon and regard consecutive defeats as an assault on the natural order of things.

Before last weekend’s startling loss to Argentina in Sydney, they had not suffered such an affront to their dignity in almost a decade.

Given the level of expectation and assumption, 1998 came as a terrible shock. It may be remembered up here in Blighty as the year of England’s “tour of hell”, but it was the All Blacks who found themselves in the foulest smelling circle of Hades.

Between mid-July and late August, they lost two games to the Springboks, the first of them in Wellington, and three times to the Wallabies, the second of them in Christchurch. Talk about the Grim Reaper wielding his scythe.

Even those ageing souls who had lived through a six-match run of reverses half a century earlier agreed that the events of ’98 were worse.

Back in 1949, the New Zealanders lost four Tests against the Boks in South Africa and two against the Australians at home. But as those series were played simultaneously, the outcome was not entirely surprising.

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