Innate belief sets All Blacks apart, but are they the best ever?

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On Sunday in Dublin, rugby history was made. Deep into extra time, the All Blacks scored a converted try to complete not only a remarkable comeback against Ireland, but also confirm themselves as the first team in the professional era to complete a ‘perfect’ year. Their scorecard for 2013 reads 14 games played, 14 games won.

There are other stats that outline just how exceptional this team is. In 14 games they have scored 454 points, at an average of 32.4 a game, while their highest in one game was 54 against Japan – not an astronomical figure – meaning that the figures are not skewed (as they would be for, say, South Africa, who put 73 points in one game on South Africa) and they have consistently racked up the points. They have scored tries for fun – 51 in total – at an average of 3.6 per game. Tellingly, they have not dropped a single goal – why would you bother, when you have such an innate belief in your ability to cross the whitewash?

And therein lies what sets this team apart from the chasing pack. They have a belief and a composure that is unparalleled in rugby and, quite possibly, in sport. At times when other teams make it into an opposition’s twenty-two, they seem to panic and their basics break down. New Zealand are the opposite of this. When they get a sniff of the try-line, their skills become sharper, their decision-making is clearer and their execution is more often than not faultless.

Certainly, in the likes of Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read, they have some once-in-a-generation players, but it is the belief of the whole squad that is so important. It is not just about having the ability, it is about also having the mental fortitude and composure to consistently execute that ability. This is what teams like Ireland and England, who have both significantly upped their game against the All Blacks in recent times, must somehow develop – a way to play at that level against everyone.

To illustrate this point, it is interesting to note that of their 14 games this season, Carter has played just six and McCaw seven. It does not matter, though, because the men who step into the breach in their stead have that same belief in their ability. Indeed it could be argued in Carter’s case that his replacement – be it Aaron Cruden or Beauden Barrett – has played better rugby than he has this year. Forty players have featured for the All Blacks this season, and none have looked out of place.

One caveat must be noted – the standard of opposition they have faced this year has not been that high. Other than South Africa, who look like they could genuinely challenge the All Blacks over the next few years, and Ireland, who astonishingly upped their game in Dublin, no-one has come close to touching them. France and England challenged, but deep down you always sensed that New Zealand would triumph.

So, they are the most successful team in the professional era, but are they the best team rugby has ever seen? Are they better than England’s 2003 vintage, or the South African team of 1997-1998 that won 17 consecutive games? What about the Sean Fitzpatrick/Jonah Lomu-led All Blacks of the mid-90s? And, admittedly now going on other people’s testimonials/recommendations, what about the 1987 New Zealand team that won the inaugural World Cup?

What do you think?

Are the 2013 All Blacks the best rugby team ever?

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By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

5 thoughts on “Innate belief sets All Blacks apart, but are they the best ever?

  1. Yes and no. Given the way professional sport has developed I am pretty confident just through athletic and physical ability they could beat any team ever to play the game. Physically the game is in a totally different league from 20 years ago. However pure natural footballing ability? Nearly but not quite… Also in terms of ‘best in the world in their position’? They are missing a front row and scrum half. Other than that they are pretty perfect.

    Actually think ’03 England were a pretty fine team. That was a seriously good pack- with a brilliant front row. Same with 97-98 and 07-09 SA.

  2. No of course they aren’t the best team ever because it’s an impossible concept constrained by the period in which the team plays. I can remember Welsh teams of 40 or more years ago that I might give that title to (and I’m an England supporter) but they would not have survived in the professional era. This NZ team is easily the best around at the moment but they are not supermen and on a bad day are beatable by fairly ordinary teams (England, Wales, SA, Ireland). It is not just down to talent but also commitment and belief. I firmly believe that the Wales performance against England last 6N was so good that the team could have (on that one performance) be judged as far better than NZ. As I say it’s an impossible concept.

  3. On paper I feel I’m compelled to say yes, given that they have the longest unbeaten streak and most of the squad were involved in winning the last world cup. Really, it’s more nuanced than that. I liked the1999 Australian world cup winning team. They were more convincing in their final. I’m sure others have their favorites too. Not on paper: I don’t think they are the best All Blacks team ever even – 1987 team?, but they’re certainly a highly worthy generation of the AB’s brand.

  4. Roy says; ‘No of course they aren’t the best team ever because it’s an impossible concept’. I agree. There is difficulty in ‘standardising’ criteria to compare teams.

    The S. Times hack S. Jones opines the that 96 AB team & (funnily enuff for a Taff who’s spent most of his life trying to be more English than the… you’ve guessed it.) the 02 England team were (at least in his memory). He, like most though, lays down no criteria either. Therefore it has to be at least in part a subjective matter.

    Stats can tell a lot, but it’s what is left out that is also sometimes telling. The article mentions that some of the AB oppo was weak but doesn’t that apply to other teams too? Besides this yr the ABs have beaten all in front of them incl SA @ a town called Ellis. But as for the best ever? I dunno. The 96 team DID flog the Saffas outta site with Cullen, Wilson & a biggun called Joanna Lumley though. And that was a 1st. So a pretty complete side? Likely.

    Presonally I rated the Oz teams into the 80′ & 90’s & after all they were the 1st to win 2 WC’s. Names like Catchpole, Hipwell, Ella, Slack, Hawker, O’Conner, Poiedivin, Codey, Tuynman, Loane, Corneilson & then Farr-Jones, Eales, Campese, Lynah, McKenzie, Lawton, Kearns, Burke, Horan & Little (almost) trip off the tongue.

    The Welsh team of the 70’s carried all before it…. in the NH, although not in the SH. Great backline to watch though. Some pretty decent forwards too. I esp recall Delme Thomas.

    Not many rate the French but with names like Lux, Trillo, Maso & Villepreux in the backs & fwds like Walter Spangero, Daniel Dauga, Christian Carrere, Illie Cester, Alain Plantefol their then team impressed me mightily. Made the AB backs look pedestrian… & those fwds. Scared me. Fantastic individuals, but as a team? Not really. Luckily, or unluckily for them, their selectors came out of a cornfake packet.

    The Saffas have always been there or thereabouts with some brutes in the fwds Frik Du Preez & backs like Gainsford & Englebrecht etc, etc, but their best team? Maybe the 1 which went 17 on the bounce? The 95 WC team? Again hard to say.

    To finally draw an (apt??) analogy it seems easier to me to judge the ‘best’ WWII fighter aircraft as at least the criteria was somewhat specific; i.e. comparisons between rates of climb, speed, maneuverability, ceiling, firepower, protection, technology (e.g. direct fuel injection), endurance & so on.

    Unfortunately rugger is less easy, so to some degree you takes your choice.

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