New Zealand have set the standard in world rugby for decades.
Their shock failings at consecutive World Cups between their wins in 1987 and 2011 only serve as anomalies that highlight how dominant they have been outside those years.
As baffling as the fact they managed to mess up when it came to the game’s biggest showpiece is the constant flow of outrageously talented players they have produced over the years.
No one has been able to match the depth and quality of player New Zealand produces, but here is a XV that stands out above the rest.
Cullen was a beautifully balanced runner, not so much eating up the ground as floating across it.
He was a ruthless counter-attacker, had a wonderful sense of timing and angles, and seemed to ease away from opponents without even trying. In 58 caps, he scored an astonishing 46 tries.
An honourable mention at full-back must go to Mils Muliaina.
14. John Kirwan
Kirwan was unstoppable in his prime. His length-of-the-field try against Italy in the 1987 World Cup underlined just how far ahead of the other wings in the world he was.
Searing speed, great strength and perfect balance. Doug Howlett from a more-recent All Black vintage comes close.
11. Jonah Lomu
Who else? Lomu was a once-in-a-lifetime player. He was bigger, faster and stronger than any player the world had ever seen.
He could score tries no one else even dared dream of—and that no opponent could do anything about. Honourable mentions to Jeff Wilson and Joe Rokocoko
The best All Blacks sides down the years have had a long-standing centre partnership at their core.
For this correspondent, the golden years of the double act formed by Frank Bunce and Walter Little stands out as the best.
They didn’t match Joe Stanley and Warwick Taylor—the duo of 1987—for a World Cup winner’s medal and don’t contrast as starkly as the devastating pair of today's team, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
But Bunce and Little complemented each other perfectly. Bunce provided the biff and Little the subtlety, their on-field chemistry helped by the fact they were best mates off it.
10. Dan Carter
Carter has been the world’s best fly-half for close to a decade and possibly the best No. 10 we have ever seen.
He is certainly the best in the position during the modern era. He can run, goal-kick, place-kick and orchestrates the All Blacks back line as though he is seeing the game in slow motion.
Andrew Mehrtens and Grant Fox stand close behind Carter in the pecking order.
9. Justin Marshall
Marshall had his critics, but in a career that saw him amass 81 caps—making him the most capped scrum-half—he was the finest No. 9 they have had in the modern era.
Marshall’s pass was lightning fast, and his snapping and sniping at the base of the ruck was too much to live with for most opponents.
Sid Going, the scampering menace at No. 9 in the 1960s and '70s, gets an honourable mention here.
8. Kieran Read
Read is at the height of his powers right now. 2013 saw him crowned IRB Player of the Year following New Zealand’s perfect 12 months.
He has been freed from some of the grunt work and has flourished in the open spaces, running great support lines, creating and scoring tries and ripping defences apart.
No discussion of All Black No. 8s can overlook the sublime ZinZan Brooke, who many would choose in this side above Read. Buck Shelford gets an honourable mention.
7. Richie McCaw
McCaw has been the premier open-side flanker of the last decade and only has Michael Jones from the 1987 World Cup side to challenge him for this shirt.
While Jones brought a fierce physicality combined with raw speed, McCaw’s ground game has been peerless.
Josh Kronfeld deserves a mention as a true No. 7 of great talent.
6. Michael Jones
Jones had to be in this side and if he has been edged out of the open-side berth by McCaw, he is more than capable of playing on the blindside.
Jones’ athleticism went far beyond any other back row forward of his era. A trail-blazing back row forward.
5. Colin Meads
Above all others, the man they call Pinetree is the emblem of the bygone days of All Blacks rugby.
As rough and rugged as the land he farmed all his life, Meads was a totem in the black jersey, which he wore in 55 Tests.
Meads was in the boiler room of the All Blacks packs that conquered South Africa on foreign soil in the 1960s and he faced the Lions twice.
He remains the very embodiment of the best All Black traditions, a hard man in every sense.
4. Ian Jones
Jones ruled the air at the lineout in the 1990s, forming a powerful partnership in the All Black engine room with Robin Brooke.
No one could touch him at the lineout, his light, slender frame making him the perfect build to be hoisted high at great speed by his lifters.
Although he didn’t look like an enforcer, Jones was the hard man of the All Black forward group.
Ali Williams can consider himself well in with a shout in the second row debate.
3. Olo Brown
Brown edges Carl Hayman out of the tight-head spot.
He seemed immovable no matter the opposition and was the bedrock of the All Black pack that secured its first series win in South Africa in 1996.
He earned 56 caps, with the only game he missed coming when he was rested as New Zealand’s second string dismantled Japan at the 1995 World Cup. The All Blacks scrum suffered after his career ended due to injury in 1998.
2. Sean Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick could scrummage, run, tackle and talk like no other hooker before or since.
He captained New Zealand for 51 of his 92 caps and stands head and shoulders above the competition. He was the most inspirational leader the All Blacks have ever had.
1. Tony Woodcock
Woodcock’s longevity at the coalface gets him ahead of Craig Dowd for this shirt.
He has been solid as a rock for the All Blacks in the scrum and has added superb passing and running skills, essential for New Zealand’s style of play.
He scored the try that won New Zealand the World Cup in 2011 and has won 107 caps and counting.
Prop forwards are usually the quiet strong men of any great side. Woodcock keeps that tradition alive and well. His deeds speak volumes for him.