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A huge rugby test tonight, but it's only a game

Opinion Piece

Tonight’s eagerly awaited third and series-deciding rugby test between the Lions and the All Blacks will tell us a lot about the state of the home team. It could also tell us something about where New Zealand is as a nation.

The significance of the game is obvious. The All Blacks are threatened with their first loss in a series against the Lions since 1971, and potentially their first loss at Eden Park in 24 years.

It is a huge challenge for All Black captain Kieran Read, for whom tonight’s test is his 100th game for New Zealand and his 25th test as captain.

After the World Cup win two years ago, New Zealand rugby lost a cohort of players who would be hard to match in the national side’s long, proud history.

Gone are the inspirational captain Richie McCaw and the brilliant Dan Carter, who were the spine and tactical brains of the team. With them went other stalwarts like Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Keven Mealamu.

New Zealand rugby is good at regenerating stars and building great teams, and is focused now on the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Most commentators say the All Blacks will probably win tonight, but it does raise an interesting thought — what if they lose?

Virtually a generation of Kiwis has grown up knowing almost nothing other than All Black wins. In the process they may have lost a spirit of sportsmanship that was present in earlier generations.

The national game, like the team itself, stands at a crossroads tonight.

A recent New Zealand Herald survey showed that only 46 percent of New Zealanders considered themselves rugby fans, surely the lowest percentage ever in our history.

Leaving aside the dedicated rugby haters who have always been there, it does show perhaps a gradual slide for what is still the country’s most popular spectator sport.

All this takes place only 48 hours after the euphoria of the America’s Cup celebrations in the same city.

So what if the unthinkable did happen and the Lions win tonight? Remember, it’s only a game.