With the World Cup fast approaching, all eyes were on the New Zealand team at the weekend as they kicked off their 2011 Tri Nations campaign. Led by Richie McCaw, the All Blacks are being widely tipped to win the tournament for the first time since the inaugural World Cup in 1987 and after coming up short in the five tournaments since, the pressure is on especially as they host the competition which gets under way on the 9th September and many pundits are suggesting that the current All Blacks team has the potential to be the best the country has ever produced.
Certainly based upon their magnificent Tri Nations Grand Slam success 12 months ago, they most definitely deserve to be marked down as one of the best teams ever. They followed that up with wins over all four ‘home nations’ on their 2010 visit to Britain & Ireland but that is not enough to confirm the current team best New Zealand side ever.
Only a World Cup victory would go some way to answering that question but even then, that may not be enough to convince everyone. If they are to lift the Webb Ellis Cup they must do so in convincing fashion, just as they did on Saturday when demolishing South Africa 40-7 in their 2011 Tri Nations opener.
The answer is even harder to find when one considers that the New Zealand rugby team has an overall 75% winning record since they began playing international rugby back in 1903. They hold a winning record against every other test playing nation and have only known defeat by five of those teams, not including the British Lions.
The statistics do confirm one important aspect in that the New Zealand team between 2000-2009 claimed 100 test match victories at a win ratio of 82% which included a record run of fifteen straight victories. It is amazing therefore that they failed to lift the World Cup in either 2003 and 2007 and even more amazing that they failed to reach the final in either tournament.
Current coach, Graham Henry, is not the most popular of coaches in New Zealand’s history but he holds the distinction of coaching the All Blacks through much of this successful period, that includes five Tri Nation wins and it was due to that overall success that he became the first All Blacks coach to be kept in his position following a World Cup defeat. However, should the team fail on home soil, his tenure as coach will certainly come to an end.
It must be said that there are a number of past All Black teams that would not have choked and had the Rugby World Cup been in existence longer than 24 years, then it would be impossible to imagine that their name would not be engraved on the Webb-Ellis trophy a number of times and not just the once back in 1987.
Rugby historians will be quick to point out that teams like the 1905 team known as the ‘Old Originals’, who lost only once in 35 matches, going down 3-0 to Wales in Cardiff, would currently deserve some acknowledgment of the best All Black side ever.
The legendary pair of Cliff Porter and Jock Robinson led the 1921 team, known as the ‘Invincibles’ who played 32 matches and won them all. The team of the early sixties was also hugely impressive, who, between 1961 and 1964 went on a 17 match unbeaten run (15 wins and 2 draws) in test matches. Even this outstanding effort was bettered by the team from 1965-1970 who played seventeen and won seventeen of all test matches played. The New Zealand World Cup winning team of 1987 played a total of 19 matches, winning all bar one, a 19-19 draw with Australia, which for many makes them the greatest All Black team in history!
McCaw’s team has it their grasp to re-write the history of New Zealand Rugby at the forthcoming Rugby World Cup but as recent history suggests, they’ve shown a tendency to ‘choke’ when it really matters, if the current teams manages to win the World Cup in the manner every Rugby fan and pundit know they are capable of then there won’t be much argument against crowing this current crop of All Blacks as the best ever.