The All Blacks are not going to escape from Europe without a
label being attached to them, as the British have a
predilection for order, structure and clarity.
It is important to both Wales and England that they put the
current All Blacks into historical context and try to
determine whether the 2012 side is one of the best ever
It's possible that some of the desire to do that is about
softening the blow - Wales came into the All Black test on
the back of two defeats so may have felt the need to talk up
New Zealand to dampen local expectations - make them
understand the enormity of the challenge in advance. England
have also lost two on the bounce and know the rugby public
But there is more to it than that - the All Blacks are world
champions; they are unbeaten in 20 tests and are playing a
multi-dimensional game that is faster, more accurate, more
intense and more varied than any other team. It's only
natural that having achieved so much, the rest of the world
might ponder just how good these All Blacks are.
That theme was strong in Wales, with head coach Warren
Gatland suggesting he felt the current crew were close to
being the best he'd seen.
"We are well aware of the task in playing the best team in
the world at the moment, and probably one of the best teams
the All Blacks have ever produced," he said before the 33-10
loss at Millennium Stadium.
The first try the All Blacks scored in Cardiff only
reinforced the impression in northern minds that they are
witnessing a special team. The speed and intuition was beyond
any other international team - as were the execution of the
basic skills, the volume of support runners and the general
That try, probably, would have been beyond the All Blacks
earlier this year, too, but as much as they have grown,
improved and refined how they play, they are steadfastly
refusing to provide the Brits with anything definitive in
regard to their angst around how good this side is.
All Black coach Steve Hansen has been more active in his
deflection of whether this is indeed the best side.
"You get people who say these things ... but who knows?
"Our culture in this group is great and I am proud of that.
It is for other people to judge whether we are the greatest
team or not. You can strive to be perfect but in my time on
the planet I have never seen anything perfect."
- By Gregor Paul in London