Selections and form aside, most notably in the all-important number 9 jersey, one of the most important potential future aspects was actually nothing to do with the All Blacks at all.
With a 24-19 win against France, the All Blacks finish their year and easily the most overtly commercialised tour of their professional existence.
It started with an obligatory stopover in Chicago, where main sponsor AIG could show off their toys to their clients in a game that would have been otherwise completely meaningless had Ireland gone off script and won.
This morning saw adidas parade their new line of jerseys for both the All Blacks and France, both of whom they sponsor. Despite there being no actual need for either team to be playing in them (because historical convention dictates that France should have been wearing white), it seems adidas couldn’t pass up an opportunity to get some airtime for their $150 a pop jerseys this close to Christmas.
On top of all that, there was the very topical post-truth reaction to the All Blacks’ revenge match against Ireland in Dublin.
It doesn’t take too much reading between the lines to see the Irish media’s outrageous reaction to perceived All Black wrongdoing as hype-building for next year’s British & Irish Lions tour. Which it probably needs, given that all projections are that it will be all one-way traffic in the All Blacks’ favour again.
So given the obvious and not-so-obvious signs that end-of-year tours are simple revenue gathering exercises these days, NZ Rugby may well be intrigued by the midweek fixture that saw a ‘Wallaby XV’ play the French Barbarians. Made up of current squad members and Australians now plying their trade in Europe, this was not an official Wallaby side.
However, it was a clever move by the Australian Rugby Union to cut a few costs by not having to fully contract players for a one-off match, as well as using it to blood some rookies – most notably high-profile league convert Marika Koroibete. It doesn’t count as a Wallaby match, which is probably a good thing as they lost.
Would NZ Rugby consider doing the same thing? All Black rookies Rieko Ioane and Liam Coltman have played about 45 minutes’ worth of rugby combined on this tour, a few games for a ‘New Zealand XV’ would at least justify the cost of their airfares.
This team could turn out against top level UK club sides during the weeks between tests, which would be understrength due to their best players being on test duty. Given that both teams would be thrown together, the matches could be played in an open spirit. There’s enough ex-All Blacks in Europe to field a team by themselves, so they’re not going to lack talent.
Of course, results aren’t anywhere near as important as they would be if it was the full All Black team, but you can guarantee anyone in the UK paying money to watch will more or less regard them as one anyway. And pay they will – the Māori All Blacks played in front of packed stadiums in Chicago, Limerick and London recently.
Any losses, like the one the Wallaby XV suffered, won’t be a stain on the All Black jersey. In fact, they can wear whatever jersey adidas wants them to, with AIG all over it, and not face a backlash from angry traditionalists. They’d probably win a few of them over by returning to an old school proper tour format.
It’s not entirely out of the realms of possibility, in the last month the Māori All Blacks toured the US and UK, while the remainder of New Zealand’s top players not in those squads were stacked into the Barbarians team. This handy consolidation of players was obviously a ploy to make it easy to bring guys into the All Blacks in case of injury, but toss in the Black Ferns touring the UK at the same time and the last month would’ve cost NZ Rugby a fortune.
Given that half the games on this tour were thinly-veiled revenue gathering exercises, the addition of a purely revenue gathering team makes perfect (if not slightly cynical) sense.