World’s Best Team?
Ahead of the All Blacks-England test, Independent rugby correspondent Chris Hewett proposed that “Richie McCaw and his team are beginning to look like something more than merely the best rugby union team on the planet. They are starting to look like the best team in any sport.”
Since 2003 New Zealand have played 121 international matches, the overwhelming majority of them against top-ranked opposition, and lost only 14, most of them by a single score. As a result, they are the reigning world champions and masters of all they survey.
“That victory over the high-performing French, taken together with jaw-dropping performances against the Australians in Sydney and the South Africans in Johannesburg, puts these All Blacks in an exalted space of their own: previous New Zealand teams have seized the keys to those great rugby citadels, but never with such panache.
“Greatness in rugby is about far more than the mere winning of matches, irrespective of how many victories are secured. To achieve it, a team must dare to be different: to fly in the face of the sport’s accepted logic; to expand its sense of the possible; to galvanise it with the shock of the new…Back in 1951, the Springbok tourists armed themselves with a pack of unprecedented quality and played a brand of power rugby that left all the major European nations fearing that the sport had passed them by for good. Thirty-three years later, a Wallaby squad boasting such mesmerising talents as Mark Ella, Michael Lynagh and David Campese ripped through the British Isles in Grand Slam fettle, outscoring the home nations by 12 tries to one.
“Former England attack coach Brian Smith argues today’s All Blacks are placing such extreme demands on their opponents in terms of collective technique, concentration and resilience that unless they defeat themselves, it is difficult to see who might beat them. Among the many points of difference they have brought to their rugby is a mastery of the aerial game so finely honed that it is almost as if they play the game in four dimensions rather than the usual three. No idea is off-limits; there can be no standing still.”
It’s now all down to the Irish to upset this trajectory.