At this point of the previous World Cup cycle, the All Blacks were so far ahead of the field that picking a World XV was an exercise in looking for about four or five players who werent New Zealanders.
Coles, Retallick, McCaw, Kaino, Read, Carter, Smith, Nonu, Smith, Savea, Smith – very decent shouts or certainties to be regarded as the best in their positions.
The game has changed. You have to look harder now to find the All Blacks who are definitively the No.1 at their job. Of the All Blacks named above, only Retallick retains his preeminence. Age has seen some depart the scene. The rise of others means the others have been caught up or surpassed.
Aaron Smith and Ben Smith were definitively outshone by Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux in recent Tests against South Africa (although the Highlanders custodian is still the premier act, in my mind).
Some other All Blacks have stepped up. Rieko Ioane is the worlds best wing. It would be hard to find a better loosehead than Joe Moody. But outside the brilliant Blues wing and Crusaders loosehead there are not a lot of utterly compelling cases.
Kiwis (at least Hurricanes fans) would say Beauden Barrett. The Irish would say take a look at Jonathan Sexton in the final minutes against France in Paris earlier this year. Crusaders followers would say Kieran Read. The rest of the world would say they agreed 100 per cent until his serious back injury.
In fact, in picking a World XV it would be easy to leave six places as yet unclaimed (see below). This is not out of laziness but out of honesty. I can find only nine players who I could confidently defend in a debate.
This means three things for the Wallabies. First, it is a shame that the Wallabies have been so poor in a period of relative vulnerability for the All Blacks.
Even though South Africa showed they could both put pressure on the All Blacks attack and post 30 or more points against them, twice, there was no hint of this in either Bledisloe game.
Second, the flipside to that is the world has become a much more interesting place with the All Blacks no longer enjoying the services of a number of all-time greats such as McCaw. If the Wallabies can organise themselves well enough to get to this party it would be a lot of fun.
Third, there is no current Wallaby who would make a current World XV. David Pocock would go close but not as a No.8. Will Genia would have his supporters too. This is obviously linked to point No.1 and reflects the leap the Wallabies must make over the next year to be considered World Cup contenders.
Not only do they need to get the likes of Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau at least back in the conversation (as a winger Folau would not be among the worlds top five) but they need to get one or two others into that mix.
Taniela Tupou has huge potential, although time is against him for Japan 2019. Sean McMahon would be a dark horse if he were available. Jack Dempsey and Isi Naisarani could transform the back row but they are roughies on account of a long injury lay-off and unproven Test credentials, respectively.
Still, one lesson from the Rugby Championship is this:
although the All Blacks are still the worlds best team, there is no reason for the Wallabies to be blinded by their brilliance as they prepare for Bledisloe III in Yokohama.
My (incomplete) World XV*
1. Joe Moody (New Zealand)
2. Malcolm Marx (South Africa)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
4. Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)
9. Conor Murray (Ireland)
10. Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)
11. Rieko Ioane (New Zealand)
13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)
15. Ben Smith (New Zealand)
* For sake of ease, outstanding candidates who are currently injured were still considered
Paul Cully is a rugby columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.