Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Only one label may fit European tour result

Steve Hansen says he has never witnessed 'perfect'. Photo / AP
Steve Hansen says he has never witnessed 'perfect'. Photo / AP

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 produced.

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 are edgy.

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 awareness. 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."

- NZ Herald

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