Former All Black coach Laurie Mains has lauded Kieran Read's team as the finest New Zealand side in our rugby history while also lamenting the fall of traditional foes, the Springboks.

Mains was full of superlatives for Steve Hansen's current team and said the only possible way for them to improve further was to produce a full game showing some of the brilliance they have displayed this season.

"But I'm not sure if that's possible in the game of rugby," he quickly added in a lengthy interview with Kent Johns on Radio Sport. "I think they should be well satisfied with what they are achieving."

All Black coach Laurie Mains talks to his team at a training in 1995. Photo / www.photosport.co.nz
All Black coach Laurie Mains talks to his team at a training in 1995. Photo / www.photosport.co.nz

Mains is particularly impressed with Dane Coles' form this year and lauded Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock and the back row as the best locking and loose forward combinations in the world.

Advertisement

"And I could carry on right through the team and say 'how can you get players any better than these?'"

"I think this All Black team - man-for-man - is the strongest team I can ever remember. It probably compares alongside the great 1967 All Black team for personnel. The 1967-68 All Blacks and this team, personally, I think they are the best All Blacks teams I've ever seen."

But Mains is also disturbed about the fall from competitive grace of our old enemy, South Africa.

And he blames the republic's controversial quota system for that," said Mains.

He said the system that enforces South African rugby officials to pick a certain number of black and coloured players in sides had backfired and weakened the Springboks.

"It's one of the major tragedies of world rugby that South Africa, who have always been in the top two but over recent years have fallen from that mantle."

"Unfortunately the quota system in South Africa is showing there are a number of players there that are not up to international level and therefore it breaks down their whole system."

"You can even look at Australia. They've got some very good players but they've got three or four there who are not true international players and they get exposed.

"World rugby needs South Africa back at the strength they were - and it's going to take a long time to recover."

Mains said World Rugby should intervene and also encourage the 300 plus players plying their trade in Europe and overseas to come home.

"First of all, they need to encourage their top level players to come back to South Africa and play in Super Rugby," he said.

"I was fully supportive of the quota system when I coached in South Africa. That was 15 or 16 years ago. They've had these quota systems in place now for 20 years. So every player playing at this level - black, coloured or white - has come up through the quota system, so there are no disadvantaged players left in South Africa. Age grade rugby has a quota, they have it right through the Currie Cup, Super Rugby and international rugby. So it's (the quota) no longer needed to create opportunities for the coloured and black players.

"I just feel the only recovery road for South Africa is for them to say: 'right, with our national team, we pick the best players'. Now some black and coloured players will be there because some of them are very, very fine rugby players. There's not many rugby teams around the world who wouldn't have wanted Bryan Habana over the last 10 years. So they have some players who would get there on merit but they have too many weaknesses in their team now.

"If that policy was implemented, then a lot of these top players would come back from overseas and we would see the Boks back where they should be. Then they've got the choice of how they manage it (a quota) at Super Rugby and Currie Cup level. It's their domestic game. They can do what they like with that. It's the only way I can see South Africa coming back to be a world force again."

"If New Zealand Ruguy turned around and said to Steve Hansen: 'Sorry you have to pick 10 white players in your All Blacks team, imagine the furore around the world if that policy was implemented.

"I just think World Rugby has to stand up and say 'we can't allow racial selection in international rugby'. I don't think they will do it. For me racism goes both ways. And I only say this because after 20 years I think all of the players in South Africa now have come through without any disadvantages."

Mains also hoped calls for South Africa to quit the Sanzaar coalition and play in northern hemisphere club competitions and the Six Nations would go unheeded.

"That would weaken South African rugby further. Their exposure to New Zealand and Australian teams, and in particular New Zealand teams, needs to be maintained for those players to learn how the modern game is going. The five New Zealaand Super teams play an outstanding brand of rugby and play it very skilfully. The only way you learn that is playing against them. Unfortunately, the draw in Super Rugby means that the South African teams don't play all of the New Zealand teams - and they certainly don't play them twice. That's something that needs to be looked at.

"South Africa will benefit from playing against the New Zealand teams at Super level and at international level. I think it would be a backward step for South Africa if they revert to the northern hemisphere season, and it wouldn't be good for southern hemisphere rugby either."

The former All Blacks coach also had a view on England's Eddie Jones who created headlines this week by saying teams should not try to match the All Blacks by copying their playing style and that his side would create a new style of game that could beat New Zealand.

Mains suggested Jones was being typically disingenuous.

"It's how you interpret it. Eddie Jones is a crafty bugger and he doesn't want the other international teams around the world getting better - he just wants England to get better. He's no fool, Eddie Jones. I don't always admire what he does with his teams but one could never say he's not a good coach.

"What Eddie says is not necessarily what he believes and I think you have to take his comments with a grain of salt. But I'll guarantee, watching England, that you will see parts of the All Black team style coming in. But here's a fact that I guess endorses what he said. You can only work with the ability you've got, with the best of the players you have got, and you have to develop your pattern around the strength of those players.

"Now that means that England, or South Africa or Australia play slightly differently to the All Blacks and have a slightly different emphasis in their game plans, but overall if they're not off-loading and if they're not building high tempo in their games, they're never going to hack it with a team that does that.

"That is reality now. You have to be able to play at that tempo. How often over the past two years have we seen the All Blacks, in a reasonably close game, but in the last 10 or 15 minutes, they just get away. It's because they're fitter, they're used to playing high tempo and the other teams just aren't staying with them."