Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Three steps to greatness

Ma'a Nonu and his colleagues are tantalisingly close to a remarkable record. Photo / Getty Images
Ma'a Nonu and his colleagues are tantalisingly close to a remarkable record. Photo / Getty Images

The All Blacks' unbeaten run of 14 is just three shy of the world record for the top test teams, writes Gregor Paul.

Twice in the past six years, the All Blacks have moved close to the world record of consecutive victories and twice they have lost the 16th in the run.

The world record is 17, set by the Springboks of 1997-98 and All Blacks of 1965-69. Lithuania have done more (18) but it's not quite a fair comparison in that they are a Tier Three nation.

The current All Blacks have won 14 on the trot now and whatever they say, however much they claim not to be driven or overly interested in these sorts of records, they would really quite like to go beyond 17 straight wins.

The hump game, once again, will be No 16: South Africa in Soweto will probably be the toughest encounter of the year. Argentina in Mar del Plata will be tough all right: physical, intimidating and demanding.

The All Blacks hardly need reminding of the difficulties they have previously encountered in Argentina. And they hardly need reminding that the Pumas have already drawn with South Africa at home this year in the Rugby Championship and were five minutes of composure away from defeating Australia on the Gold Coast last week.

The Pumas test will be tight, bruising and will require the All Blacks to be somewhere near their best to win. For all the pressure the Argentines will exert, it would be a massive shock if the All Blacks were to lose. Who'd bet against the All Blacks making it 15 in a row?

And then it becomes seriously interesting because once again game No 16 has the potential to end the run. For several reasons, the test in South Africa is likely to be the toughest game of the year.

There are the logistics for a start. The All Blacks headed for Argentina yesterday - a 15-hour trip with a 15-hour time difference once they arrive. They will be smashed senseless by the Pumas and then be required to jump back on another long-haul flight to South Africa with the clock working against them given the time difference.

A short turnaround and the possibility that the Rugby Championship will already be safe ... that doesn't bode well. Nor does the fact the Boks will be direct, brutal and determined. They hate losing anyway, but really hate losing to the All Blacks and super-seriously hate losing to the All Blacks in South Africa. There will be points to prove collectively and individually and the Boks won't care that they can't win the Rugby Championship; pride will be enough for them.

It's not quite as hard to win over there as it once was, but still, the All Blacks lose more in South Africa than they do anywhere else. In the past 10 years, they have won only 50 per cent of their tests in the Republic and haven't managed to win more than two consecutive tests there.

But this current All Black side have made it their business to live outside their comfort zone. They are not chasing victories as such - they are chasing great performances and are determined to back up from one week to the next; to not be on fire one week and then drop 20 per cent the next.

"I believe they can," says selector Grant Fox when asked if the current side can emulate the last All Black side that won the World Cup and went on to dominate the global game for three years.

"It is a hell of an ask. They have set goals that are really challenging, but pragmatically, it is bound to be the case that there will be one or two games that are ugly, games where they don't get the performance right."

Arguably, if the law of probabilities are applied, the All Blacks have already had those nights where their performance hasn't been quite right. Maybe it's time for them to deliver two huge back-to-back performances and get over that 16th game hump. It won't be disastrous for their momentum or their season if they lose, but victory on the other hand could elevate them into a different stratosphere again.

As Israel Dagg said last week: "We have this mentality of adding to this legacy and just striving to become the world's most dominant rugby team and not be one of those teams that slips away after the World Cup."

Moving beyond the subjective is imperative - and claiming a world record number of consecutive victories is important in leaving a footprint.

To really crack the great side thing, trinkets have to be collected along the way. There has to be significant achievements, measurable accomplishments that eliminate the need for debate.

Great sides win things like World Cups and world records and if the All Blacks of 2011-12 want to stand ahead of the All Blacks of 2005-06 and 2009-10, they need to push beyond 15 consecutive wins.

- Herald on Sunday

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