All Blacks: Men with the golden touch

Who is the most successful All Black? In light of Richie McCaw's 100th test win last week, Andrew Alderson does some sums.

Conrad Smith has been in an undefeated All Blacks side in 56 of his 62 tests. Photo / Getty Images
Conrad Smith has been in an undefeated All Blacks side in 56 of his 62 tests. Photo / Getty Images

Richie McCaw's landmark as the first international player to notch 100 test wins raised the question: "Who is the most successful All Black?".

Among the current crop of senior players (as a benchmark, we have nominated a minimum of 50 tests) Conrad Smith reigns supreme, even trumping McCaw for the percentage of tests won (Smith 90.32 v McCaw 89.29).

Sure, there is just 1.03 per cent difference but the statistic is testament to Smith's longevity and value to the current group. In fact, taken across the entire All Black spectrum of players with more than 50 tests, Smith is so far the "winning-most" All Black in history.

Only six of his 62 tests have sent the nation into mourning; three losses each against Australia and South Africa. Smith's first loss as an All Black (vs South Africa at Dunedin in 2008, more than three and a half years after debuting) is his only defeat at home.

Smith's feat deserves praise, despite existing in the McCaw epoch. By being a centre, he has not been as prominent as his openside flanker and captain but his lieutenant's leadership, mixing cerebral with combative, cannot be underestimated.

In combination with Daniel Carter, Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu, Ma'a Nonu, Kieran Read and Tony Woodcock, Smith is more than just a good luck charm. He is part of a veteran leadership core to whom McCaw can turn for support.

Such resources have helped the All Blacks reach the brink of equalling the record for most consecutive test wins.

If a different measure is taken among current All Blacks, Aaron Cruden reigns supreme as he has not yet played in a losing test match. There is no doubting Cruden's skill and he has also started his international career at the right time.

Any such era of performances has to be put into context. The professional age provides more test matches and, especially in World Cup pool play, easier opposition to boost winning ratios. Coaches like Sir Fred Allen and Sir Graham Henry can lift teams, oppositions can be weaker than previous eras and player records can be inflated by token appearances off the bench.

That is where records such as those of loose forward Waka Nathan (13 wins and a draw from 14 tests, 1962-67), prop Ken Gray (21 wins and a draw from 24 tests, 1963-69), centre Bill Davis (11 wins from 11 tests 1967-70), Earle Kirton (12 wins from 13 tests, 1967-70) make impressive reading.

However, those benchmarks have to be put into context when compared to players who had careers across dominant New Zealand eras such as Colin Meads (41 wins from 55 tests, 74.55 per cent, 1957-71) and Sean Fitzpatrick (74 wins from 92 tests, 80.43 per cent, 1986-97).

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- Herald on Sunday

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