Who is better than the All Blacks?

By Michael Brown

Michael Jordan (L) and Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images.
Michael Jordan (L) and Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images.

The current All Blacks side are on a phenomenal run of success. Michael Brown compares their record to some of the best teams in international sport.

USA men's basketball team 1992-2000
P41 W39 L2 95%
Olympic champs: 1992, 96, 2000
World champs: 1994

The Dream Team backed up with gold at Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000 but, by that time, a number of elite players opted out of playing meaning the dream (team) was largely over.

Americans love a grandiose moniker to attach to their sporting heroes but it's hard to argue with the Dream Team, the name Sports Illustrated labelled the US basketball side for the 1992 Olympics.

Some of the biggest names to ever pull on a singlet played for that team, including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley.

The back story is important. Before the 1992 Olympics, the US team was made up of amateurs but a year after the US finished third at the 1988 Olympics the international body amended their rules to allow professionals to compete.

The 12 selected were largely a who's who of basketball, but US basketball, in a nod to the past, decided to include one amateur, with Christian Laettner selected ahead of Shaquille O'Neal.

Chuck Daly coached the 1992 side but Chuck Norris could have had the whiteboard in his hand and they still would have won, such was their dominance. They won by an average of 44 points and the closest of their eight games was their 117-85 win over Canada in the final.

The Dream Team backed up with gold at Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000 but, by that time, a number of elite players opted out of playing meaning the dream (team) was largely over. The US women's side is equally impressive, having won eight consecutive Olympic titles and established a 66-3 win record (96 per cent) since their first game in 1976.

Dream Team members listen to the national anthem during medal ceremonies for men's basketball at the Centennial Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta Saturday, August 3, 1996. Photo / AP.
Dream Team members listen to the national anthem during medal ceremonies for men's basketball at the Centennial Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta Saturday, August 3, 1996. Photo / AP.

All Blacks (2009- )
P93 W85 L6 D2 91%
World Cup; 2011, 2015
Rugby Championship: 2010, 12-14

The All Blacks have set the standard since beating Australia 22-3 in 1903 in their first international. In that time, they have won 420 of their 545 tests (106 defeats and 19 draws) for a winning percentage of 77.

It's a phenomenal record but the current side under Steve Hansen, and previously Graham Henry, have taken it further. A 33-6 defeat of Australia in Wellington in September 2009 ushered in an era of unprecedented success and they've now won 85 of their last 93 tests for a 91 per cent success rate.

In 2013, a whiteboard message in the All Blacks' hotel read: "We are the most dominant team in the history of the world." The previous year, Hansen told the UK's Daily Telegraph the All Blacks were taking inspiration from Spain's football team of 2007-13 (see below). "Clearly, they are doing something that makes their players want to be great every time they play," Hansen said. "That's what we're trying to do, be as good as we have been, if not better."

They are better. The All Blacks have won two World Cups in that time, four of the last six Rugby Championships and have retained the Bledisloe Cup since 2003. Their current winning run sits at 15 games, meaning they're closing in on their own record of 17 test victories, they have won their last 44 tests at home and have held the No 1 ranking since 2009.

New Zealand All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter hold aloft the Webb Ellis Trophy after winning the Rugby World Cup Final. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
New Zealand All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter hold aloft the Webb Ellis Trophy after winning the Rugby World Cup Final. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

Spain football team 2007-13
P94 W80 D7 L7 85%
Euro champs: 2008, 12
World champs: 2010

The Spanish team of this era was the most successful team, statistically speaking, in the history of international football. Their winning record (85 per cent) eclipses that of the Hungarian side of the 1950s, the West German team of the 1970s and even the great Brazil team of 1958-70 who won three World Cups (they won 67 per cent of games in this period).

It's an achievement many Spanish fans probably never thought they would see, given the national side were considered football's great underachievers. Aside from a solitary European title, won on home soil in 1964 during the turbulent era under Franco's fascist dictatorship, they had little silverware.

Luis Aragonés took over after the 2006 World Cup, when they were ousted in the second round, and realised Spain couldn't outmuscle teams so needed to find another way to bring success.

He employed a system of trying to monopolise possession - later known as tiki-taka - by rapid movement and intricate passing. It worked. They won Euro 2008, beating Germany 1-0 in the final, and then became the first European side to win the World Cup outside of Europe with a 1-0 extra time defeat of the Netherlands in South Africa in 2010. The juggernaut continued through to Euro 2012, when Spain hammered Italy 4-0 in the final, becoming the first international side to win three consecutive major titles and first to retain the European Championships.

Spain's players celebrate after winning the penalty shootout during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal. Photo / AP.
Spain's players celebrate after winning the penalty shootout during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal. Photo / AP.

Hungary football team 1950-56
P50 W42 L1 D7 84%
Olympic champs: 1952
World Cup runners-up: 1954

Five European teams have won the World Cup but there should probably have been a sixth. The Hungarian side of the 1950s, known as the Aranycsapat, or Golden Team, won 42 of their 50 games from 1950-56, with only one defeat, and were unbeaten in 31-straight games (1950-54). In 1953, in a game later labelled the Match of the Century, they handed England their first home defeat by a team outside the British Isles (6-3) and the following year thumped the same opposition 7-1, which remains England's heaviest defeat.

They hold the records for highest goals per game in a single World Cup tournament (5.4), most goals scored in a single World Cup tournament (27) and highest goal differential (+17). That one defeat was significant, however. At the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, they romped through to the final with wins over South Korea 9-0, West Germany 8-3, Brazil 4-2 and defending champions Uruguay 4-2. They were heavy favourites leading into the final against West Germany, given their four-year unbeaten streak, and went 2-0 ahead after only eight minutes.

The Germans responded, however, winning 3-2 in a match that became known as "The Miracle of Bern". It later emerged the West Germans intentionally fielded a reserve team against Hungary in the group stage to hide the true strength of their team. Hungary's legacy, though, was to revolutionise the way the game was played, implementing an early form of Total Football later adopted by the successful Dutch sides of the 1970s.

It centred around the talents of strikers Ferenc Puskás, Nándor Hidegkuti and Sándor Kocsis and attacking half-back József Bozsik and they did it at a time of the worst communist oppression by the Soviet Union since occupation in 1945.

Hungarian goalkeeper Gyula Grosits, third from right, jumps to clear the ball from German right-winger Helmuth Rahn, second from right, during the Football World Cup Final. Photo / AP.
Hungarian goalkeeper Gyula Grosits, third from right, jumps to clear the ball from German right-winger Helmuth Rahn, second from right, during the Football World Cup Final. Photo / AP.

USA women's football team 1985-
P573 W444 L60 D68 83%
World champs: 1991, 99, 2015
Olympic champs: 1996, 2004, 08, 12

Their last campaign didn't go too well - they were beaten in the quarter-finals at the Rio Olympics and goalkeeper Hope Solo showed a lack of class in her attack on Sweden, calling them a "bunch of cowards" for the way they played - but it was the first time the United States women's football side had failed to medal at a World Cup or Olympics.

They have won three Women's World Cups and four Olympic titles and their worst world ranking has been No 2. Since their first international in 1985, they have won an incredible 444 games. Their first major victory came at the 1991 World Cup but it wasn't until victory on home soil in 1999, when more than 90,000 filled the Rose Bowl (the largest crowd for a women's sporting event) to see them beat China in a dramatic penalty shootout that they became known globally.

The sight of Brandi Chastain, who scored the winning penalty, celebrating in her sports bra became the iconic image of the tournament and the success of the tournament led to an upsurge of interest in women's football. In 2004, Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers were the only two women and only two Americans in Pele's list of the 125 greatest living footballers named as part of Fifa's centenary celebrations.

Carli LIoyd of The United States celebrates scoring during the womens Football Gold Medal Match between The United States and Japan. Photo / AP.
Carli LIoyd of The United States celebrates scoring during the womens Football Gold Medal Match between The United States and Japan. Photo / AP.

USSR ice hockey team 1954-91
P900 W725 L110 D65 81%
Olympic champs: 1956, 1964-76, 1984-88

World champs: 19/27 times competed (three Olympic titles doubled as the world champs)
They became a symbol of the Soviet Union - supposedly emotionless, socialist robots programmed to crush the West with ruthless efficiency - but, like most Cold War rhetoric, this representation was short on truth. Yes, they were tough and, yes, they were efficient but they were also immensely skilled and creative.

Many remember the Soviet team for being beaten by an American team made up mainly of college players at the 1980 Winter Olympics - it was later dubbed the Miracle on Ice - but between 1954 and 1991 the Soviets won 19 world championships and failed to win a medal on only one occasion - 1962 - because they didn't enter (the tournament was in the US at the height of the Cold War). At the Olympics, they won seven of nine golds between 1956 and 1988 (at the 1976 Innsbruck Games, they won all five games by a combined score of 40-11) and fashioned a record of 467 goals for and 127 against. Some players struggled to adjust to the NHL after moving to the US following the collapse of the Soviet Union but they contained some of the world's best and goalkeeper Vladislav Tretiak, defender Vyacheslav Fetisov and forwards Valeri Kharlamov and Sergei Makarov, who were features of the team in the 1970s and '80s, were voted on to the IIHF Centennial All-Star Team.

Members of the Soviet hockey squad pile on each other on the ice at the Saddledome after defeating Sweden 7-1, Friday, Feb. 26, 1988, Calgary, Canada. Photo / AP.
Members of the Soviet hockey squad pile on each other on the ice at the Saddledome after defeating Sweden 7-1, Friday, Feb. 26, 1988, Calgary, Canada. Photo / AP.

Australia test cricket team 1999-2007
P95 W74 D11 L10 78%
Won 25 of 31 test series. Also won three World Cups (1999, 2003, 07)

The end of the millennium marked a turning point for Australian cricket. They had recently started selecting different teams for tests and one-day internationals following their final defeat to Sri Lanka at the 1996 World Cup and in 1999, Steve Waugh was appointed captain. Waugh ushered in the finest dynasty in cricket history. The West Indies side of the 1980s, who didn't lose a series in 15 years, have often been used as the benchmark of success but they had a win ratio of only 58 per cent.

Between 1999 and January 2008, Australia won 25 of 31 test series, losing just three, and defeated every test playing nation home and away at least once. They also beat an ICC World XI in 2005 in a one-off exhibition match that is generally regarded as a test. Australia under Waugh revolutionised cricket.

They were attacking, chasing wins as opposed to avoiding defeat, and twice put together runs of 16 consecutive test victories. They had the firepower, with the likes of Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Brett Lee and Matthew Hayden, and the core of the side also won three consecutive World Cups (1999, 2003 and 2007).

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