When courage is not enough
Before the Eden Park Bledisloe Test in Auckland at the weekend the All Blacks reverted to their own haka, Kapa O Pango. It's one the squad created themselves and they seem to draw on it when they want something special. The crowd sense it and so does the opposition.
This was always going to be a tough night for the Wallabies, for if it's not hard enough playing the All Blacks at their most threatening fortress, doing so when your preparation has been disrupted and theirs was near-perfect requires the most Pollyanna of all optimistic thinking.
One of the hallmarks of this All Black team is consistency, in both selection and tactics. Such consistency builds momentum, week to week, producing performances that snowball on each other – 27-19 the other week, 22-0 last week.
Subtle changes enhance previous tactics and confound an opposition scrambling to play catch-up.
Subsequently, when a stable team like the All Blacks meets an emerging and relatively disrupted team, the performance gap can seem near-impossible to close.
This scenario sums up where the Wallabies and All Blacks sit at present. It is stability v instability, confidence v uncertainty. And forced and unforced changes to the Wallabies squad, and particularly the starting team, only magnify such differences.
Take the All Blacks' use of Sonny Bill Williams. In the first Test he was used primarily as a decoy, whereas in this encounter he emerged as a first-choice attacking option, creating havoc through his size, speed and skill.
Watching him play such a dominant role makes you lament that he is now off to Japan to play less rugby, at a lower standard, while earning significantly more money than playing for the world's best team in the world's toughest competition. There's something wrong, illogical and perhaps unsustainable about that scenario.
Aussie rules and rugby league don't share such a conundrum. Their best get paid the top dollars to ply their trade in Australia, in the toughest competitions in the world in their sports. The TV dollars have followed. Such a luxury is not afforded the Australian Rugby Union, a victim of rugby's global appeal.
SBW's absence will weaken the All Blacks – but not by much – and it won't help the Wallabies because we don't play them again until late October.
It would be easy now for the Wallabies to feel blue. Rightly, they still mark their card against the All Blacks, even though it may not be useful for the All Blacks to do the same against us.
In fact it's possible they have no peer at present and should judge their performance only against their own stellar standards.
The Wallabies, however, should take pride in the courage, if not the clarity, of their display. Persistence and an insatiable irritation must propel them from here.
New Zealanders should enjoy this team and this era for it is special, but it won't last forever. It never does, even though it may be difficult to see it ending any time soon. The Springboks may be their only real measure this year, but that remains to be seen.
The Springboks will also be the measure of exactly how the Wallabies lie compared to the rest of the world. Victory against them will show there is more right than wrong in this regime. A loss will tighten the screws.
One thing is clear, however, and that is that the Wallabies are playing catch-up with the best. As is the rest of the rugby world, I might add. The temptation when you play catch-up is to always look for new ways of doing things. Sometimes however, the solution is to just do the same and simple things better.
Selecting Quade Cooper was a move in the right direction but the Wallabies can't expect such a move to work immediately. They must be patient and build a team over time.
The place to start would be to identify the World XV or potential World XV players in the squad and build the team around them.
This might mean sticking with some players through thick and thin, hoping that after the erratic may come the genius.
The final gesture of Kapa O Pango looks like a throat-slitting action. When the All Blacks first introduced this haka they were challenged about it and emphasised that it was not throat-slitting but rather the drawing of hauora; the breath of life into the heart and lungs.
Either way, as an opponent and as a spectator it makes sense. They play a cutthroat game and take your breath away.