All Blacks notch unwanted 100
September 12, 2009
All Blacks scrum-half Jimmy Cowan shows his disappointment in Hamilton © Getty Images
While the All Black defeat by South Africa at Hamilton had plenty of short-term significance as the decider of this year's Tri-Nations, it was also a landmark in New Zealand's rugby history - the 100th Test defeat suffered by the All Blacks.
It has been a long time coming. They are the last of the eight 'foundation nations' to reach it, four years after South Africa. And in terms of the number of games it has taken, New Zealand is way ahead.
This was their 452nd match. Next highest are the Springboks, who took 319 matches. Australia was, by contrast, the fastest, taking only 150 matches. There's a good reason for that, which is that more than half of those matches, in an age when international rugby was rarer and more circumscribed by geography, were against the All Blacks.
England took longest of the home nations, 279 matches, including 34 draws, a far higher proportion than any other nation. Next are Wales, who took 249 before losing a match that lived long in the memory for representing another landmark - the home loss to England on a Cardiff icefield in 1963 that was the last time the old enemy won on Welsh soil until 1991.
Scotland took 220 matches, of which they won 104, finally reaching their century in the midst of their famous 17-match losing run in the early 1950s, while France took 186 - including a considerable number against opponents like Germany and Italy, whom the other nations did not play and did not recognise as of test quality. Ireland was first of all to its century, in only its 166th match in 1931.
What all of this emphasises is the sheer rarity value of an All Black defeat and the consequence that it is more valued by an opponent than any other result. It is one of the reasons why any list of 'greatest matches of all time' will contain a disproportionate number of matches that New Zealand lost. To a Kiwi that might look like anti-New Zealand bias - in fact it is a heartfelt compliment. Beating them means more than beating anyone else, because it is so hard.
Consider for a moment some of the occasions on that theoretical list. The first ever All Black defeat was in their seventh match, the 3-0 loss to Wales in 1905. It was proclaimed 'the match of the century' at the time it was played. Unlike such claims it continued to hold water not only a year later, but when the century ended - either 94 or 95 years later, according to how you define it.
Beyond that are England's triumph in Obolensky's match of 1936, Australia's win in the World Cup semi-final in Dublin in 1991, South Africa's World Cup final victory in 1995 and of course the greatest French uprising since 1789 in the World Cup semi at Twickenham in 1999. Every one an imperishable classic.
Ireland and Scotland would also undoubtedly regard a victory over New Zealand as a greatest moment, had they ever managed to achieve one.
It was appropriate that the 100th defeat was against the Springboks, the one team to have been remotely competitive over time, inflicting 33 defeats in exchange for 42 All Black wins.
Australia have beaten New Zealand more often, 39 times, but have been defeated on 90 occasions. Next on the list are South Africa while the combined record against British opposition is 121 wins and only 15 defeats - six by England, six by the Lions and the remaining three against Wales. France's record is a more respectable 12-35.
Numerate readers will have been adding up the above numbers and getting 99. The round hundred is made up by a loss to the International XV who visited New Zealand in 1992 as part of the celebrations of the New Zealand Rugby Union centenary.
It was their first ever loss at Hamilton, a venue where they have previously only played teams highly unlikely to beat them, and only their 37th in more than 200 internationals at home. That their away record, 59 defeats in 206 matches, is a better winning percentage than any other country has when both home and away matches are included., underlines quite how remarkable they have been over the long haul.
Lancaster Park and Eden Park have both seen 10 defeats against many more victories. Their least favourite ground is unquestionably Ellis Park, where the Boks lead 8-3. At the other end of the scale is Murrayfield, where they have yet to lose in 14 visits.
Defeat number 200 will probably come up rather more rapidly than the 106 years the first century has taken - there are a lot more matches nowadays - but it is a pretty good bet it will be a long time coming. As Sean Fitzpatrick was wont to say: "You should remember your defeats, and learn from them."
Remembering is so much easier when it does not happen very often.