For the first time in 13 years, and just the fourth time in the history of New Zealand sports betting, the All Blacks are underdogs going into a match.
If the home series defeat to Ireland, and four losses in the past five outings, wasn’t a stark enough illustration of the national side’s struggles, then the NZ TAB odds for Sunday’s (NZ time) test against South Africa sure paints it brightly.
The All Blacks opened, and remain, at $2.00 in the head-to-head market for the Rugby Championship opener in Mbombela, with the Springboks slight favorites at $1.87.
And while many may feel that it could even be somewhat generous to the visitors, it’s worth remembering odds are set to attract equal action on both sides of the book, and the greatest propensity for locals to back their own team.
But in just being an outsider, the All Blacks are in such rare territory.
They have played 340 matches (including non-tests) since the TAB first offered sports odds in 1996, and the betting agency have only three previous instances of them not opening as favourites.
Those times? All clashes against the Springboks in South Africa. For a record of zero wins and three losses, at that.
Think of All Blacks defeats – and, no, that hasn’t been as hard of late – but in hindsight, despite how galling or gut-wrenching, how big the margin or how big the stage, they had typically still always gone into the game as expected winners.
Let’s rewind to those three exceptions.
Foster addresses the sackings of John Plumtree and Brad Mooar, and his own position with the All Blacks.
Two of those underdog instances came on successive weekends in 2009 – the last time the All Blacks faced back-to-back contests against South Africa in the republic.
Having already lost their season-opener 27-22 to France in Dunedin, before claiming a 14-10 revenge win in Wellington, a new-look team then scored an unconvincing 27-6 win over Italy in Christchurch, before Stephen Donald guided them to at 22-16 win over the Wallabies in the Tri Nations opener in Auckland.
The All Blacks had shut out the Boks 19-0 in their most recent clash, in Durban the year before, but still, with the Springboks coming off a series win over the British and Irish Lions (albeit losing the third test), and Dan Carter sidelined with an achilles rupture, Graham Henry’s men were installed at what remains their record-high opening price at the NZ TAB of $2.60 for the test in Bloemfontein.
Sure enough, in front of an electric crowd, with a mistake-ridden performance in the dry afternoon conditions, the men in black paid the price, falling to a 28-19 defeat.
Ironically, despite the defeat, for the following weekend’s test in Durban, the All Blacks opened at the slightly shorter price of $2.50, perhaps due to being away from the highveld and an expected hit-back factor.
However, there was to be no such response. On an evening which finished one-try apiece, the Boks enjoyed a whopping 72% possession and Morne Steyn punished the visitors’ ill-discipline via the tee. The sharp-shooting first-five scored all his side’s points for a record-setting effort against the All Blacks, who fell to a 31-19 loss.
Prior to those two games, it was a further 11 years back when the All Blacks first went into a game without the favorites tag.
That was in the ill-fated 1998 season, where New Zealand had thumped an understrength England in two tests but then went on to lose their remaining five.
After going down 24-16 to Australia in Melbourne, 13-3 to the Springboks in Wellington, then losing the Bledisloe Cup in a 27-23 loss to the Wallabies in Christchurch, the All Blacks were priced at $2.30 for their next assignment, a fortnight later in Durban, against a Springboks side on a 12-test winning run.
And on an evening in front of 52,000, the visitors silenced that home crowd by going to the break up by 12, and leading 23-5 with quarter of an hour to go, only for the Springboks to storm back with three late tries to hand John Hart’s beleaguered side a heartbreaking 24-23 loss.
Now, back in the republic with their backs against the wall, will it be a case of history repeating, or can the under-fire underdogs make history this weekend?
AT A GLANCE
All Blacks opening as underdogs at the NZ TAB
$2.00 v South Africa, Mbombela, 2022
$2.50 v South Africa, Durban, 2009
$2.60 v South Africa, Bloemfontein, 2009
$2.30 v South Africa, Durban, 1998