Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: All Blacks' great win percentage

New Zealand boast a winning record of close to 90 per cent in their last 50 tests.

Joe Rokocoko scores against Australia in a 33-6 win in 2009 which marked the start of the current All Black era of domination. Photo / Getty Images
Joe Rokocoko scores against Australia in a 33-6 win in 2009 which marked the start of the current All Black era of domination. Photo / Getty Images

Greatness, of the statistical kind at least, has crept up and bestowed itself on the All Blacks of the past four years.

Usually, greatness is the most subjective term - no one can agree on the criteria by which it is measured and declared.

So how about hard numbers - measuring success in terms of victories over a sustained period? Like, 50 tests. No side could get lucky for that long. No side could cram their fixture list exclusively with cannon fodder over that many tests.

Greatness, on the 50-test measurement scale, can be claimed by the current All Black team: last night was their 49th test since they ended their period of shame in mid-2009.

A third straight loss to the Springboks in September that year highlighted that the lineout was a shambles and that the inability to catch high balls was painfully bad.

The All Blacks headed to Wellington with coaching and playing futures on the line; they had to stop the rot, get a grip on test rugby and claw their way back to form and respectability.

They did that with a 33-6 demolition of the Wallabies and then defeated them again in Tokyo before seeing off Wales, Italy and England ahead of delivering a statement of intense performance in Marseilles, where the beginnings of a counter-attack revolution were born.

Revenge against South Africa came then next year, as did a clean sweep of the Tri-Nations and a Grand Slam.

A World Cup followed in 2011 and then there was the dominance of last year that included a 60-0 rout of Ireland, a double annihilation of the Wallabies and back-to-back heroic efforts on the road to beat Argentina and South Africa.

There has been so much good rugby in that period, so many good performances: the World Cup semifinal, the dramatic late win in Soweto 2010, another equally brave effort at the same ground last year and last week's emphatic victory against France.

New stars such as Israel Dagg, Julian Savea, Aaron Smith and Sam Whitelock have been found, while older men such as Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Cory Jane have matured to the point where they can enter the Parthenon.

The basic skills have improved across the board; attention to detail has been meticulous and the All Blacks have become a side as happy kicking and chasing as they are passing and running.

But nothing explains the achievement better than the 44 victories and one draw in the last 49 games. That is the best record of any era - and even if the All Blacks should lose the last in the set, so to speak, when they take on the Wallabies in Sydney, they will still have the best win ratio of any 50-game period.

The worst they can come away with is an 89 per cent ratio. In the preceding 50-game run between late 2005 and 2009, the All Blacks enjoyed two Grand Slams, three Tri-Nations titles and a series win against the Lions but they won 'only' 41 tests in total for an 82 per cent ratio.

Wind back further to the next 50 which spans late 2001 to early 2005 and the All Blacks won 83 per cent of their tests.

The best before that ... the ratio was only 73 per cent, dragged down by the horrors of 1998 when the All Blacks lost a record five on the trot.

The past four years have been special. All Black defeats stand out for the genuine surprise they have brought; two occurred when the All Blacks were protecting their top players ahead of the World Cup.

Yet, despite this relentless excellence and incredible series of results, the All Blacks are adamant they have plenty more to come; big areas of improvement.

"We have got more work to do on the breakdown. There is certainly a different interpretation of what is and isn't allowed from the Northern Hemisphere referees. We have to adapt to that and get better at it," says coach Steve Hansen.

"Our set piece, our strike plays, our scrum and lineout - we just want to see our whole game get better, really."

- Herald on Sunday

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