Alex Cuthbert of Wales attempts to tackle All Black wing
Julian Savea. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Several times the question has surfaced: Are the unbeaten
2012 All Blacks the best in recent history?
The first World Cup in 1987 is a good starting point because
that side took out the inaugural global title as part of a
sequence when they went a record 50 games without defeat
including 23 tests.
They went three-and-a-half years without losing a test before
eventually falling to Australia 21-91 in Wellington in 1990,
a sequence which included a 19-19 deadlock at Ballymore in
That group of All Blacks was an immense collection of talent,
even though our minds get a little glossy with nostalgia and
we forget how the game has moved on for the better.
John Gallagher, John Kirwan, Joe Stanley, Grant Fox, Wayne
Shelford, Michael Jones, the Whettons, Richard Loe, Sean
Fitzpatrick, Steve McDowell and eventually Zinzan Brooke,
Graeme Bachop, Ian Jones and Walter Little would be tabled as
candidates in the greatest team of the last 25 years.
The 1995-97 version was a team which rose from uncertainty
and, through many of the ideas chosen and implemented by
Laurie Mains which are an outline of what we are seeing
today, ran opposing teams ragged with their skills and
They made their mark at the 1995 World Cup and are players
worthy of nominations for places in the best team of the last
quarter of a century. Jeff Wilson, Jonah Lomu, Frank Bunce,
Andrew Mehrtens, Josh Kronfeld, Robin Brooke, Olo Brown and
In the following two seasons, Christian Cullen, Justin
Marshall and Tana Umaga added their qualities as the side
roamed the world winning an absolute humdinger of a series in
South Africa in '96 as the first New Zealand side to achieve
that Holy Grail.
They lost one test to the Springboks at Ellis Park and drew
another in two seasons of glittering rugby.
The 2005 side would get a vote, too. They smeared the British
and Irish Lions and had a solitary loss to the Boks at
Newlands in a season of glowing rugby.
Newer faces like Mils Muliaina, Aaron Mauger, Joe Rokocoko,
Sitiveni Sivivatu, Daniel Carter, Byron Kelleher, Richie
McCaw, Jerry Collins, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock, Carl
Hayman and Keven Mealamu were scratching their names on the
hall of fame plaques.
They were at or near their prime and, extraordinarily, some
still continue today.
They were part of last year's World Cup winning squad, a
group who claimed the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time last
Champions have emerged in that group. Take fullback Israel
Dagg, who is chasing Gallagher, Cullen and Muliaina's
reputation as the premier fullback in the last 25 seasons.
Add in Cory Jane, the developed Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu,
Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks and Andrew
Hore for the ballot.
It doesn't stop there. There's a sense of Graeme Bachop about
Aaron Smith this year and Sam Whitelock has developed into a
Start the voting now. Polls close after the England test on
- By Wynne Gray of the New Zealand Herald in London