Top world ranking meaningless until Boks beaten, says ABs captain

All Blacks captain Ardie Savea returned to lead his team to a 36-13 win over Argentina in Brisbane on Saturday night. CHRIS HYDE/GETTY IMAGES

Ardie Savea didn’t know his All Blacks had topped the World Rugby rankings until they walked off Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.

He didn’t seem to care much, either.

According to World Rugby’s calculations the All Blacks’ 36-13 win over Argentina in Brisbane propelled them to No 1 international team on the planet, a title they were forced to surrender in 2019 after England beat them in the World Cup semifinal in Yokohama.

If Savea felt a sense of pride that the All Blacks had risen to the head of the leaderboard, he did an excellent job of camouflaging it.

“I wasn’t really thinking about that, mate,” the openside flanker said.

“It got mentioned in the post-match interview, but my mindset is you have got to beat No 1 to be No 1.

“So it doesn’t mean anything for me.”

Savea, of course, was referring to the Springboks. While the Boks have officially surrendered pole position, beaten by the Wallabies on consecutive weekends, the All Blacks feel they haven’t earned the right to be top dog until they beat the old foe.

Next Saturday night’s test between the All Blacks and the Springboks in Townsville will be the 100th match between the sides, followed by the final Rugby Championship fixture on the Gold Coast a week later.

Because the Springboks refused to play in the championship last year, the two sides haven’t met since their first pool match at the World Cup in Yokohama.

While the All Blacks won that game 23-13, it was the Springboks who took all the glory by beating England in the final. And that, in turn, led to the All Blacks being stripped of the No 1 world ranking they had held since 2009.

To reclaim the position on Saturday night the All Blacks had to beat the Pumas by more than 15 points, and hope the Wallabies rolled the Springboks.

A try scored by lock Tupou Vaa’i, his second of the evening, ensured the All Blacks surpassed the required margin but not before having to repel the tenacious Pumas for much of the final quarter.

Having hopped out to a comfortable 24-3 halftime lead, the All Blacks failed to assert themselves for much of the second half, with hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho scoring their other try in the 46th minute.

While coach Ian Foster would have been frustrated his team didn’t improve after the break, he had to take into account that he had made 11 changes to the side that beat the Pumas 39-0 last Sunday.

There is no doubt the All Blacks will be the favourite to beat the Springboks. Given they secured a 3-0 series cleansweep of the Wallabies, who in turn secured consecutive wins over the World Cup holders, the All Blacks are expected to try and make the Springboks suffer by unleashing a combination of speed and physical intensity.

They key will be not allow the pressure and concentration to waver in the second spell as it did against the Pumas.

As the Pumas surged back, Savea said he consulted former Hurricanes team-mate Beauden Barrett, who replaced first five-eighth Damian McKenzie with 14 minutes left.

“When Baz (Beauden Barrett) came on, it was just about staying calm,” Savea said.

“Just the next moment, focus. We knew what we were doing, giving silly penalties away.

“It started off in the first half, missing those opportunities. And it became close in the end. It’s good for us, being able to have our backs against the wall and deal with that pressure.”

 

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