Northern Hemisphere critics applaud the Bledisloe Cup
July 17, 2000

It really must have been the greatest rugby union game ever played.

The extraordinary Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup battle between the All Blacks and Wallabies at Stadium Australia received its ultimate endorsement when hailed the "greatest ever" by Britain's Sunday Times rugby writer Stephen Jones.

Jones has for many years been the arch-critic of southern hemisphere rugby, despite its perennial dominance. Naturally Jones found points to quibble about.

He reckoned England would have backed themselves to concede nothing like the 39 points yielded by the Wallabies or the 35 given up by New Zealand. He also found plenty of fault with the All Blacks' tight forwards and had reservations. But he just could not help it.

"Well do we have a new Greatest Game Ever Played? For me, yes," wrote Jones. "The circumstances surrounding Australia's magnificent recovery from a pit 24-0 deep and only eight minutes long and New Zealand's Jonah Lomu inspired escape at stoppage time, satisfy me that the baton has been passed from France-New Zealand 1999 World Cup semi-final to this wonderful Tri-Nations encounter.

"It is difficult to see how you could improve on the drama even if you scripted it."

New Zealand's opening scoring burst left Jones' chest "heaving for breath" while the Wallabies fightback "testified to the mental hardness of the world champions and the few
minutes they spent in reverie, wondering at their comeback, was evidence of fallibility."

Jones found the sheer power in the clash a major point of difference with northern hemisphere rugby.

"There was, bless both coaches, a real air of confrontation: a burst was a burst, meant to hurt and break the tackle, not something apologetic so we could have a gentle Sunday school ruck or maul. That was the most striking difference between this match and what we saw in the Six Nations last season."

Jones hailed it as a "day to celebrate in both hemispheres as evidence of a sport quickly returning to rude health after the shambolic transfer to the professional game."

Writing in The Guardian, Andy Colquhoun agreed.

"What has happened to dear old rugby union?" he wrote. "We knew the game of Beaumont and Botha and of Fox and Catchpole would begin to fade into sepia the moment the game went professional in 1995.

"But the sport is reinfesting itself on an almost yearly basis in the scramble not to lose out in the race for supporters and sponsors. And in front of a world record crowd of 109,874 in Sydney on Saturday, it may have reached its pinnacle."

So had the two southern hemisphere powers again stolen a jump on Six Nations champion England?

"Perhaps, perhaps not," according to Jones, reverting to a favoured theme by suggesting England's "ever-improving defensive systems" could have performed better than Australia's and New Zealand's.

"And, if there is one reservation concerning the class of the match, it is that some of the tackling, admittedly against some of the most relentless and cleverest attacking movements seen for years, was a little ragged".

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