All Blacks look to make history in Bledisloe Cup match
New Zealand seek to establish longest winning sequence in history of Test rugby with 18th successive win in Rugby Championship opener against Australia
Captain Richie McCaw with team-mates at a New Zealand training session ahead of their Bledisloe Cup match against Australia on Saturday in Sydney. Photograph: Reuters
At 8.05pm local time in Sydney, or 11.05am Irish time on Saturday morning, New Zealand will attempt to establish the longest winning sequence in the history of Test rugby with an 18th successive win in their Rugby Championship opener against Australia.
And so the achievement will assuredly spark that hoary old chestnut as to whether these All Blacks are indeed the greatest rugby team of all time.
Alternatively, the question could just as easily read “are they the best New Zealand team of all time?” for it probably amounts to the same thing such has been the All Blacks’ supremacy of the sport.
For sure, this hasn’t always been reflected in World Cups, but over the course of the game’s history they have invariably set benchmarks and redesigned the game like no other.
It is a debate that was given a pertinent twist last November by the England head coach Stuart Lancaster when he rated the current All Blacks’ side as the best team in world sport, all the more so when retaining their hunger and desire to keep winning in the fall-out from claiming the William Webb Ellis Trophy in Eden Park in 2011.
“In world sport could you tell me a team that has a record like that internationally? I don’t think any of the football teams have got it. Spain, for example? In cricket no one has it.”
Having been taken to the brink of defeat by Ireland at the Aviva Stadium last November before ultimately recovering from a 19-0 deficit to win with a Ryan Crotty try in overtime and a match-winning conversion at the second attempt by Aaron Cruden, Graham Henry reckoned this team had even eclipsed his World Cup-winning class of 2011.
“This side is the best rugby side in the world right now, and may be the best rugby side who’s ever played the game,” he said. “There’s not too many areas where you think you can improve. I think they’ve made great progress in their running lines, particularly the forwards, and carrying the ball in two hands. The lineout is impenetrable at the moment.”
As the Aviva game highlighted, and indeed their epic 38-27 win over South Africa in Johannesburg last October, these All Blacks also seem to thrive the more a team throws at them, such is their belief in each other and their defence, as well as their fitness and their skill set throughout whatever XV they have on the pitch at any one time, and their ability to conjure tries from anywhere.
Led by the truly legendary Richie McCaw in his 128th Test, they will certainly have a statistical claim to being the greatest team of all time should they surpass the mark of 17 test wins set by the 1965-69 All Blacks captained by Brian Lochore, who are credited with inventing phase play, and equalled by the 1997-98 Springboks coached by Nick Mallett.