One of the interesting aspects of sports coverage is the decline of the great team.
Liverpool in the 70s and AC Milan in the 1990s seemed invincible but both sides went into decline – from theirs, Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp have only re-emerged.
Manchester United went into decline after Matt Busby and are repeating this after Alex Ferguson.
However, there is one side that is perennially a titan namely the All Blacks but are they?
After the series defeat to Ireland at home they are now ranked fourth in the World rankings with a tough tour in South Africa ahead.
They still have world class players like Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallack – who may not play in any of the South African Tests, San Whitelock and Aaron Smith but these are not getting any younger. France’s World cup next year will be Sam Whitelock’s fifth.
Much of the criticism is levelled at coach Ian Foster.
The All Blacks favour successor appointment and Foster as Steve Hansen’s number two (Hansen was the number two of Graham Henry) was preferred to Scott Robertson, who successfully coached the Crusaders.
There was a post-Ireland review which Foster survived.
One must also mention that ex-All Black legends have a powerful and vocal media presence and the All Blacks no longer seem to benefit from favourable refereeing decisions.
I do not put too much store in rugby being their national sport.
Cycling is the national sport of France but they have not produced a Tour de France winner for years.
Against this negativity, one must say that the infrastructure is strong: the game between the two best schools in Auckland attracts a crowd of 7,000 and the Provincial system still productively feeds the national team.
The All Blacks have only won 2 World Cups but the killer fact – as England found in Japan – is no team has beaten them and won the World Cup.
France must be the favourites on their own soil but I would not write off the All Blacks just yet.