The pride of a nation, fearsome opponents to some and fierce rivals to many, the All Blacks have developed a reputation as a team that plays rugby the way it should be played. Often entering tournaments as favourites, the All Blacks play with aggression, teamwork and skill that always has them sitting amongst the teams to beat.
But which All Blacks team is the greatest of all time? We’ve taken a quick look at some of the most amazing All Black sides to wear the famous jersey. And while it’s tough to give a definitive answer as to which was actually the best team, it’s a testament to New Zealand rugby that the All Blacks have been so strong for so long.
The 1905 Originals were pioneers of the game and set the standard for the attractive, committed running rugby that’s become synonymous with All Blacks sides. This team has a legendary record (34 wins from 35 matches) with their solitary loss coming to Wales. The highlight for this legendary team probably came with their 32-5 and 29-0 victories of the first and third test of a series with the British and Irish Lions, which well and truly sent shockwaves through the world of Northern Hemisphere Rugby.
The Originals weren’t escorted around in the luxury today’s international sides would have become accustomed to and often had to spend weeks on a boat to make a match, but by the same token, they didn’t have to deal with the weight of expectation current All Blacks sides face when entering every single tournament.
Now this was a mighty All Black team that had a considerable role in the creation of the All Black legacy. In 1923, this team embarked on a tour of Britain, Ireland, France and Canada that would see them go 32 games unbeaten, and helped the likes of the Brownlee brothers, George Nepia, Cliff Porter, Jimmy Mill and Bert Cooke enter All Blacks immortality. And they weren’t exactly facing weak sides either. England were coming off a period of supreme domination, having won Grand Slams in 1923 and 1924, and Ireland and France were also fierce opposition.
The Invincibles also played two gripping drawn series against one of the greatest teams to ever pull on Springboks colours.
The best team to never win a World Cup
It may seem odd to include this side in a list of the best All Blacks teams of all times, but there’s a line of thought that suggests if the team had managed to pick up success in 1995 (and you can’t not consider the sheer emotion pushing the Springboks towards victory that year) that their status as the greatest All Blacks team of all time would be a foregone conclusion. This All Blacks side was the first ever to win a series on South African soil and put together back-to-back Tri-Nations tournament victories which is no mean feat considering the tough opposition.
The team that won the World Cup on home soil
If it were placed purely on grace under pressure, you would give it to this iteration of the All Blacks automatically. And even though the All Blacks entered the tournament as favourites, they were up against it in 2011 with an injury to key playmaker Dan Carter. Early results were hardly encouraging, but it was their response to the tournament in 2011 (and the intense pressure of a home crowd that expected success) that was what defined the side. This team showcased nerves of steel in famous victories over The Wallabies and Les Blues, and certainly deserved their victory.
Now we come to the current iteration of the famous side, which is another example of the Kiwis bringing pride to the famous jersey. With the genesis of the 2011 side still in place, this side went on an amazing run, winning 26 of 28 games from 2012 to 2013. One thing to consider when assessing this team for greatness is the quality of the opposition they’re facing, with European teams gaining in strength considerably in recent years. And the fact that The Unbeatables went two straight seasons in The Rugby Championship without having to face a loss adds to their legend.
This iteration of the All Blacks will probably have their place in history determined by their result in England this Rugby World Cup, but if they manage to pick up the prize, who knows? Maybe they will go on to be the greatest All Blacks ever.
Which is the best All Blacks team of all time?
While there’s still no set answer to the question, it definitely makes an interesting and controversial discussion point. And it’s worth reflecting on it, if only to appreciate the amazing run of the All Blacks over the years.