Unbeaten All Blacks as good as they were?
August 21, 2014
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick preview the second round of Rugby Championship Tests
The current crop of All Blacks are considered to be one of the best sporting sides of the modern era despite missing the tier-one world record of 18 consecutive victories when they drew 12-12 with the Wallabies in Sydney. Having fallen just short of that particular record, they now face the challenge of equalling and passing their record of 20 games without loss between 2011 and 2012 - the best mark of its kind in rugby's professional era - and their world record of 23 Tests without defeat, a run they put together between 1987 and 1990.
New Zealand were left feeling like losers in Sydney © Getty Images
Yet some pundits have questioned whether the current team's best year is behind them, for they have failed generally to meet the standard of performance they produced to defeat South Africa in an epic Test at Ellis Park to secure the 2013 Rugby Championship title; they have played only in fits and starts, including while sweeping England and when claiming only 35% possession against Australia in their four Tests to date this season.
With their current crop's combined caps eclipsing 1200, it is evident that a number of key players are nearing the end of the careers, so we asked ourselves if age were wearying the older players. We've analysed the All Blacks since they won the Rugby World Cup in 2011 to determine whether the No.1-ranked team has remained consistent, improved or declined.
A look at the yearly match averages for the All Blacks shows remarkable consistency. Scoring just 12 points in the rain of Sydney last week, brought their average down for the year, but the All Blacks showed against England previously that they remain capable of crossing the line against one of their main rivals for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Aside from points-scoring, the level of consistency in the All Blacks' performances are there for all to see. In core attacking areas such as carriers, metres, breaks and defenders beaten, there appears no decline in fruition whatsoever - even though the classes of 2013 and 2014 have opted to offload less often than in the previous year when their winning run gathered momentum. In turn, New Zealand have booted the ball away more often over the past 18 months as they have evolved to rely on their ability to turn the ball over and counter attack.
Kieran Read remains the world's most dominant player © Getty Images
While their ability to turnover opposition ball has continued to increase, their tackling success rate has declined somewhat - and this is perhaps the only other noticeable decline in their game. Their set-piece has largely remained strong, and minor scrum issues of 2013 appear to have been addressed.
The question on everybody's lips in recent months is whether the All Blacks can sustain their supremacy with such an experienced (read aging) squad.
Old heads such as Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Keven Mealamu are certainly heading towards the twilight of their careers, and that trio have become increasingly prone to injury and niggles. But the old heads look to be maintaining the standards they set a few years ago, and there appears little evidence they are declining just yet; and even if they are - or are about to - the New Zealand production line doesn't appear to be slowing and they have plenty of top players in and around the squad with their best years still to come.
Reports and rumours of an All Blacks slide and impending death appear to be an exaggeration.
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