How do you measure greatness in sport? It is a question that causes debate in pubs and sports bars across the world. Watching the New Zealand rugby union team be crowned World Champions for a record third time, and becoming the first side to successfully defend a Rugby World Cup title, sports fans have lavished praise on this current All Blacks side, with many believing this to be the greatest rugby side in the history of the game.
A bold statement, yet one that is hard to argue with. Since ending 24 long years of hurt by grabbing their second World Cup title in 2011, under coach Steve Hansen the All Blacks have played 53 games since winning the World Cup final on home soil in 2011 losing just three times. Having been swept aside by a rampant England side in 2012, New Zealand then went on an unprecedented run which saw them record a record-equalling 17 consecutive test match victories and a 22-match unbeaten run spanning nearly two years, which was brought to an end by South Africa in 2014. The third defeat came just a few months back as Australia secured the Rugby Championship title with victory in Sydney. Over the last four years, Richie McCaw’s side have won three of the four Rugby Championship campaigns winning 18 of their 21 matches against their southern hemisphere rivals – Australia, Argentina and South Africa. Their starting XV in the final contained four players who have been crowned World Rugby Player of the year in the past – Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Brodie Retallick. A team full of world-class performers, with so much strength in depth that they possess substitutes such as Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Cane and Beauden Barrett who would probably walk into any rugby side in the world. A team who at this World Cup have shown they can win ugly (South Africa) as well as with style (Australia), all of this combined with New Zealand becoming the first rugby nation to win back-to-back World Cups surely puts them up their as the greatest side to play the game.
The record that the All Blacks have created over the last few years also opens up the debate about whether this is the best sports team ever. Very rarely does a team or nation dominate a sport over a sustained period of time. There are few teams that go on to transcend their sport. The Spanish football team who won three consecutive major tournaments from 2008 to 2012. The Australian cricket team of the ’90’s inspired by the brilliance of players such as Ponting, Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist. The All Blacks class of 2015 joined that illustrious list on Saturday at Twickenham. Like their fellow sporting legends they have revolutionised the way their sport is played by everyone the world around. What makes New Zealand’s rugby achievements all the more remarkable is the size of the country. How can a country with a population of just over four million people consistently produce the best rugby side in the world compared to rival nations such as Australia, South Africa and England who have much greater populated countries. A rugby-mad country, from a young age kids are taught the skills necessary to play the game to such a high standard that the lucky few who go on to become All Blacks have skillsets such as ball-handling and tackling that are the envy of other rugby nations across the world. Watching the All Blacks now each player – whether it be a forward or a back – seems as comfortable on the ball as each other.
Like the Brazilian football team, the All Blacks are a sporting team synonymous with excellence in their chosen sport. The name in itself is enough to strike fear into the hearts of opposing rugby nations. What sets this team apart from their rival sports teams in my opinion is the intensity which is demanded of modern-day rugby players, who seemingly go through physical hell just to prepare their bodies for the battles to come out on the field of play. That along with the size of the country and the astonishing performances and records that this side have created over the years is why in my eyes they stand ahead of all the rest, as the greatest team in the history of sport.