Are the Current All Blacks New Zealand's Greatest-Ever Team?

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Are the Current All Blacks New Zealand's Greatest-Ever Team?
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The All Blacks are undoubtedly the greatest team in the world at the moment. With their last-gasp win over Ireland last weekend, they became the first team of the professional era to win every Test in a year

In doing this, they carried on from their exploits of 2012 where they won all but one game. Over these two years, they have beaten all of the major Test-playing nations, including four wins over South Africa, four over France and six over Australia.

It begs the question as to whether this is the greatest All Blacks team ever. While they certainly have an impressive record, there have been many strong teams come out of New Zealand over the years and there are many factors to consider.

In reality, it is almost impossible to compare between eras. New laws, different game-styles and professionalism have all contributed to making the game different to the one played 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

The best way to do it is to look at how dominant a team was in their era and how well they adapted to different circumstances.

With that, let us think of those who spring to mind as the great All Blacks teams.

Buck Shelford's team of the late 1980s was unstoppable and has to rate right up there, as does the team of 1966-1969, both of whom went unbeaten during these periods.

The "Invincibles" of 1924 completed an unbeaten tour of Europe, while Graham Henry's teams of 2005-2006 and 2010-2011 were both clearly the best in the world, too.

Lastly, the team from 1996-1997 achieved things that no other All Blacks team has achieved and were clearly the best team in the world during those years.

But which of these was the very best?

The Invincibles won all 32 games of their tour of Europe and Canada of 1924 and 1925, including Test wins over England, Wales, Ireland and France. This is impressive to say the least, as this team was forced on multiple occasions to play two games in three days, playing two games a week for the best part of six months.

They boasted a strong forward pack which included the physical Brownlie brothers, a mastermind first five-eighth in Mark Nicholls, arguably their greatest-ever midfielder in Bert Cooke and the incomparable George Nepia at full-back.

It was a side filled with great names that still stack up against the very best of them almost 90 years later.

It may be suggested that this side did not have to play more Test matches, which is true. But to go through a 32-match tour unbeaten, in those days, was extremely impressive.

The team of the late 1960s was similar in that while they won every Test they played, the run was ended when it came to playing South Africa and they subsequently lost the 1970 series. This in a sense diminishes their standing somewhat, but to go four years unbeaten is definitely impressive no matter who your opponents are.

With the advent of professionalism, rugby entered new ground in 1996, but for the All Blacks, it marked the year they would do something they had never done: win a series in South Africa.

For that and that alone, they deserve to be mentioned amongst the greats, although the fact that they lost just one game and drew one over these two years is impressive, too. This is made even more impressive when it is considered they played the Springboks in South Africa four times.

 

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This was a team that boasted talent all over the park. A loose forward trio consisting of Zinzan Brooke, Michael Jones and Josh Kronfeld. A locking duo of Robin Brooke and Ian Jones, along with a front row of Craig Dowd, Olo Brown and Sean Fitzpatrick.

The back line boasted a reliable kicker in Andrew Mehrtens, a live-wire half-back in Justin Marshall, arguably their greatest-ever midfield pairing of Walter Little and Frank Bunce, with Jeff Wilson, Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen wrecking havoc out wide.

On paper they look pretty good, but they were pretty good on the field, too. 

The two Graham Henry-coached teams mentioned deserve mentions, as they both played some scintillating rugby and, depending on the value you place on World Cups, could potentially go down as the best.

That said, the 2010-2011 team lost three games, despite winning a World Cup and looking somewhat unbeatable for a large part of 2010. His other great team, that of 2005-2006, was strong, too, comprehensively beating the Lions but lost two of their three games in South Africa.

This leaves us with the team of the late 1980s which, after capturing the World Cup in 1987, continued unbeaten under Buck Shelford until 1990.

While some of the other teams went through without losing, this team hardly even looked like losing. Like the team of the mid-1990s, they were laden with talent, capable of scoring tries in an expansive style, while also capable of playing a tight game and defending brutally.

Admittedly they never had to play South Africa, although this was not their fault and does not make them any less of a team.

And the current team, which, of course, has lost just one game over the past two seasons and has been so tough to crack on defence.

The 2013 edition was certainly far more polished than the 2012 one, making fewer mistakes and playing a more complete game. They were capable of getting the job done even when faced with adversity but perhaps were not quite as dominant as Shelford's team. 

So which was the best then? That really comes down to your own opinion and what you value as being a higher achievement. Some will say World Cups count for more than other Tests, while others will look at the way a team played on a week-in, week-out basis.

The late 1980s team did both, so they have to rate right up there and would arguably the best of the bunch. It is hard to begrudge the Invincibles their share of praise, too, as what they achieved was outstanding and surely the equal of a World Cup win if that is of so much relevance. 

Those teams, along with this current one, were the only lot to go unbeaten, although the mid 1990s team would surely rate as highly as any.

If the current team can keep improving, then maybe they will rate alongside those great teams. But not quite yet—they have not captured that aura of invincibility just yet and at times have looked vulnerable.

They still have a couple of years to work on this and if what we have seen so far is anything to go by, they are more than capable. As was mentioned earlier, if one thing characterises this team, it is getting the job done and you cannot ask for any more than that.

 

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