You might think that ranking all the Tests played this year involving the teams representing 15 from each side of New Zealand, in other words the Black Ferns and the All Blacks, would be a simple exercise. But deceive you.
Weighing the relative merits of each of the 25 matches required a heady cocktail of science, math and feelings to arrive at a definitive answer. The formula is very complicated to write, but if you can imagine a combination of Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem, Archimedes’ principle of buoyancy, and Keith Quinn’s Twitter, you might get the idea. Anyway, here we go.
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25. Black Ferns 95-12 Japan
Eden Park, September 24th
With six weeks between Laurie O’Reilly’s second test and the World Cup, the Black Ferns needed this “test” to adjust. Nobody else did.
24. Black Ferns 28-0 Canada
Waitakere Stadium, June 12th
The Pacific Four Series was an important piece of the Black Ferns puzzle, but other than a great solo try for Ruby Tui and a few yellow cards, nobody remembers that test.
23. Black Ferns 50-6 USA
Northland Events Centre, June 18th
Look above. It looks like we’re messing with the Black Ferns, but we’re actually messing with pre-World Cup testing. With the greatest goodwill in the world, these games are for coaches and players, not spectators. In Whangārei, the Black Ferns’ set pieces faltered, but they had plenty of class.
22. All Blacks 53-3 Argentina
Waikato Stadium, September 3rd
This was when the All Black’s apathy was at its peak. Ian Foster’s retention was announced at a judging press conference and his team promptly lost the next Test to this opponent. The Cougars subsequently spent the next week drinking at the Outback Tavern and New Zealand spent it boiling. The ABs responded with a big win, but frankly, nobody outside of Foster and Sam Cane cared.
21. Australia 14-22 Black Ferns
Adelaide Oval, 27th August
When you play against the same team four times in a few months, one of those tests has to suffer. After a landslide victory in the first Laurie O’Reilly, Wayne Smith chose an experimental side for this trans-Tasman jape and showed a disjointed and dull performance.
20. South Africa 26-10 All Blacks
Mbombela, August 7
There will be a theme of job safety in many of the All Blacks entries and let’s just say Ian Foster wasn’t high after this toothless performance, his third hazing loss and the subsequent press conference where he uttered the infamous, “I felt that it was probably our most improved performance this year; I felt that in some areas we really changed our game forward.” Take care of the memes.
19. Black Ferns 57-0 Scotland
Northland Events Centre, October 22nd
Scotland came painfully close to beating Wales and Australia in Group A, but forgot to stop and fuel at GAS Bream Bay. By the time they reached Whangārei, they were empty. The Black Ferns didn’t need to be very good but they decided to be anyway, racing to a 45-0 half-time lead which featured a double to Renee Wickliffe, the second of which was a gem.
18. All Blacks 12-23 Ireland
Forsyth Barr Stadium, July 9th
This first Irish victory on New Zealand soil may have been a tumultuous occasion for those watching in green, but this was an inexcusably bad rugby game under Dunedin roofs, marred only by Angus Ta’avao receiving a red card for headbutting the the face of Garry Ringrose and the All Blacks setting up their replacements so Ardie Savea couldn’t return. Also to Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony calling Cane “Richie McCaw Shit” who has been lauded in some quarters as being on par with Oscar Wilde’s intelligence and wisdom but is really just shit to say to a guy. professional.
17= Black Ferns 56-12 Wales
Waitakere Stadium, October 16th
17= Black Ferns 55-3 Wales
Northland Events Centre, October 29th
The World Cup wasn’t perfect. In the space of a fortnight, the hosts faced off against the women of the valleys and the first Group A clash predicted exactly how the quarterfinals would unfold. Portia Woodman scored twice in both matches, but perhaps unfairly what will stick with me is how she should have gone when scoring both tries in the pool match.
15. Japan 31-38 All Blacks
National Stadium, October 29
I want to give the Brave Blossoms more credit here, but the harsh reality is that this sucked, with the All Blacks starting as a backline with Fin Christie, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Braydon Ennor, Sevu Reece, Caleb Clarke and Stephen Perofeta. This test is best remembered for the shadow Japan coach Jamie Joseph played afterwards: “The key for us is to really go to England now and replicate that performance against a better team.”
14. All Blacks 42-19 Ireland
Eden Park, July 2nd
It is severely marked for being the most misleading result of the season. I was in the crowd, I was a sober driver… and I still struggle to remember a single thing about it other than Pita Gus Sowakula scoring a try. Which also turned out to be misleading.
13. Wales 23-55 All Blacks
Principality Stadium, November 6
Wayne Pivac’s Wales was absolutely terrible and sometimes even incompetent, but Ardie Savea’s dummy!
12. Black Ferns 23-10 Australia
Dominion of Tauranga, June 6
While the rest of the Pacific Four Series was relegated to the periphery of these rankings, this Test, on the last Queen’s birthday Monday for the foreseeable future, carried more weight because it was the first Test with Smith at the helm and Ted being paid to look after his more “Ted”. It wasn’t outstanding, but it was an unexpected win and it was definitely the start of something.
11. All Blacks 18-25 Argentina
Orangetheory Stadium, August 27th
The Pablo Matera-inspired Pumas were huge, so this test gets a boost to show we’re not just the home team here. But let’s face it: after the week that Foster’s continued leadership of the team was confirmed, his loyal subjects responded with such poor performance. Argentina.”
10. Scotland 23-31 All Blacks
Murrayfield, November 14th
Given that Scotland remain the only top-flight team the All Blacks have not lost to, a victory in Edinburgh shouldn’t justify celebrating the OTT, but this was a sneaky good test, with a blinding start from the All Blacks with a great Scottish half, requiring a bench-assisted New Zealand power finish. Debutant Mark Telea also emerged as a better wing option than anything New Zealand started the tour with.
9. Black Ferns 52-5 Australia
Orangetheory Stadium, August 20th
If Tauranga was the beginning, then this first test by Laurie O’Reilly in Christchurch was the crystallization of the idea that airlifting resources to a campsite at 11 am might be crazy enough to work. It was a big night for Kendra Cocksedge, making her second and final Test in her adopted city, although the court belonged to the Ayesha Leti-I’iga three-try wing, showing the Ferns’ extraordinary depth in the three quarters.
8. All Blacks 40-14 Australia
Eden Park, September 24th
Probably New Zealand’s most convincing performance of the year. A decisive demolition of the Rugby Championship from an Australian team that didn’t even come as close as the final score suggests. Jordie Barrett proved a liar to those who said he couldn’t play 12. (Oh wait, was that Foster you said?) Another double corner? Pffft.
7. All Blacks 22-32 Ireland
Sky Stadium, July 16th
This lofty rating serves as a short, magnanimous note for Ireland to say, “Well done boys, you’ve earned it.” With consecutive defeats at home and four out of the last five, New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson asked for Robertson’s number from Razor and put it in his “Plan B” contacts.
6. England 25-25 All Blacks
Twickenham, November 20th
The Patriots may disagree, but blowing a 19-point lead against a team that showed nothing — nothing! – for 70 minutes was the perfect coda for this All Black season. Oh, and that attempt by Rieko Ioane was something else.
5. Black Ferns 41-17 Australia
Eden Park, October 8th
You could look at the scoreboard and say “meh”, but you would have no idea about the sense of occasion or how quickly the party atmosphere turned to anxiety when the Ferns found themselves holed up 0-17 with half an hour to go. I think we have to recognize the worst of our national characteristics and assume that the World Cup would have been a disaster if the home team had collapsed in that first game. Instead, they got a comeback for the ages.
4. South Africa 23-35 All Blacks
Ellis Park, August 14th
A gloriously redemptive All Blacks performance when least expected, which saw a breath-taking effort from the beleaguered captain Cane and an upbeat Foster telling Jeff Wilson he still didn’t know if he would be manager until the end of the following week, but he was going to take advantage of this victory. It was the catalyst for the All Blacks winning the Rugby Championship, but in other respects it was a false dawn.
3. Australia 37-39 All Blacks
Marvel Stadium, September 15th
Before the collapse of Twickenham, there was the disintegration of Melbourne. After a first half that lasted 58 minutes and featured three yellow cards, it was hard to see what more drama the second could bring, but referee Mathieu Raynal found a way. The All Blacks led 31-13 and were hoping to humiliate Dave Rennie’s Wallabies in AFL territory before shutting down and jeopardizing any goodwill the team had regained after defeating Argentina. A late long range penalty from Nic White put Australia ahead and when they won a penalty whilst defending their late line the game was over and another black mark for Foster. Instead, Raynal hit Bernard Foley for a waste of time, Jordie Barrett scored from the corner – the ninth try of the match – and rugby observers from both countries wondered what the hell they had just seen.
2. Blacks Ferns 25-24 France
Eden Park, November 5th
Hands up who, at first glance, thought Santo Taumatá’s tackle in midfield was close to a perfect exclamation point on a Black Ferns defensive shot that was about to propel them to the World Cup final. (Picture of me on a couch, arm excitedly raised to the sky.) Hands up who, at second, third, and fourth glances, thought Taumata was about to suffer the trauma of committing the act that would cost the Black Ferns a place at the end. (Picture of me curled up behind a sofa, arm humbly raised.) What a game. What a classic example of how not to end a match. And sorry Caroline Drouin, wonderful player, but I miss you.
1. Black Ferns 34-31 England
Eden Park, November 12th
To no one’s surprise, the complete mental confusion of a World Cup final comes out on top. It’s had everything from English set pieces and attacking precision, to a red card, the imagination of Ruahei Demant, Stacey Fluhler’s broken ankle, the God’s hand and it all happened in a cauldron of extreme danger in front of a crowd as engaged as any seen at a rugby match here since at least 2011 and probably forever. The biggest occasion of the year was also the best match – a rare and beloved combination.
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