Wynne Gray: Are the 2012 ABs the best?

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Richie McCaw of the All Blacks makes a break during the international match between Wales and New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images.
Richie McCaw of the All Blacks makes a break during the international match between Wales and New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images.

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- 9 in Wellington in 1990, a sequence which included a 19-19 deadlock at Ballymore in 1988.

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 fitness.

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 Craig Dowd.

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 year.

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 topline athlete.

Start the voting now. Polls close after the England test on Sunday.

- NZ Herald

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