The ignominy of getting nilled
August 28, 2012
The All Blacks shut out Australia on Saturday © PA Photos
Is there a more miserable experience than getting nilled? Not a single point, not even a token penalty goal to show for your efforts, or for fans to cheer. It is rugby's version of that word much favoured by Americans for describing unsuccessful sports teams - futility.
It was, of course, Australia's fate on Saturday at Eden Park. It added an extra humiliation on top of the now routine loss of the Bledisloe Cup, whose main purpose now seems to be to tantalise frustrated Wallabies as it is shown to them pitch-side, brandished by Richie McCaw and then returned to its lodgings in Wellington.
But if that is now an annual event, getting nilled certainly is not. It was pointed out by the television commentators that it was the first time the Wallabies had failed to score against the All Blacks since 1962.
It was in fact a pretty long time since they had emerged scoreless from 80 minutes against anybody - nearly 39 years to be exact since November 24 1973 when Wales ran up 24 points, with debutant hooker Bobby Windsor scoring the only try of his 33-test career, without reply at the National Stadium. They had played 346 matches, close to two-thirds of their entire test rugby history, since - including the one at Lang Park, Brisbane on June 2 2007 when they returned the compliment by beating Wales 31-0, also with a debutant try, from Digby Ioane.
It was the first Rugby Championship nilling for more than four years, since the All Blacks beat the Springboks 19-0 at Cape Town in August 2008, and only the fourth in the tournament's 17 year history.
To find a Six Nations nilling you have to go back even further, to 2004 and France's 31-0 win at Murrayfield. To get some idea of how long that is in terms of rugby lives, one need only note that aside from two tries by Yannick Jauzion, that match saw the debut of Julien Bonnaire, who has just retired as a much-garlanded 75 times capped veteran.
There have been only three Six Nations nillings during the professional era, all inflicted by France. They had beaten Italy 25-0 at the Stade de France only a month before they obliterated the Scots and six years before that massacred Wales 51-0 in their temporary home at Wembley Stadium.
France, by contrast, have not been nilled for 260 matches, since 1990 when Finlay Calder and Iwan Tukalo scored tries, and Alan Carminati was sent off, in Scotland's 21-0 win at Murrayfield. And the All Blacks' run of scoring in every match is now closing in on its half-century, since it dates back to the 0-0 draw with Scotland at Murrayfield on January 18 1964.
That was the last pointless international - at least in terms of those played by the major nations, The Portugal-Italy match of 1972, some time before Italy could be considered in those terms, and Togo v Nigeria in 2004, have finished pointless since.
It also represents something of a turning point. Until then getting on for one in seven of the team from the eight foundation nations who took the field for an international match returned from their 80 minutes of endeavour pointless. Ireland were nilled at a rate of one in five, failing to score in 47 of their 234 matches between the introduction of a generally accepted points system in 1890 and that weekend in January 1964. Wales, locked out in 23 of their 235 matches, were the least likely of the home nations to be nilled, while the All Blacks went scoreless 8 times in 118.
Prince Alexander Obolensky played a key role in the nilling of the Kiwis back in 1936 © Getty Images
Since then the All Blacks have played 371 times, and never failed to get the scoreboard ticking at least once. They have been restricted to single figures only four times in the professional era, most memorably in last year's World Cup final, which they of course still won.
But it has become a scarce experience for everybody. Thirty-seven teams from the original eight have been nilled since January 18 1964, from a total of 3052 who have taken the field, a rate of once every 82.5 appearances which rises to once every 108 in the professional era. Scotland, Wales and England have all been held scoreless seven times since 1964, but only the Scots have done it at a rate of more than once every 50 matches, and then only very marginally.
When somebody finally does nil the All Blacks it will be a memorable achievement, but that will not in itself be anything new. The eight on their record to 1964 include perhaps the greatest day in Welsh rugby history (3-0,1905), the most memorable performance by a single player for England (Alexander Obolensky, 13-0, 1936), a scalping from the boot of Springbok Bennie Osler (17-0, 1928) and a French win signalling their arrival as a significant force (3-0, 1954). Nobody will be keener to do it than Australia, who have to look back to June 1910 for the only occasion on which they shut out the old enemy from across the Tasman and have been paid back in kind eight times since.
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