The All Blacks will look to notch their 18th consecutive win against the Wallabies next weekend and, in doing so, break the world record for a tier one nation. Michael Brown looks back at the run.
The 27-19 defeat the previous weekend in Sydney left many All Blacks fans nervous ahead of the World Cup. Those feelings of uneasiness were settled with a quality team performance. The All Blacks played with speed and urgency and were relentless on defence and targeted Quade Cooper. Poor, old Quade had another shocker on Eden Park - opposite Dan Carter was excellent - and it was almost merciful when he was sin-binned with 30 minutes remaining.
The All Blacks had never lost a World Cup pool game or a test to Argentina. Both of those things nearly happened at Wembley. Defeat looked a real possibility when both Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith were in the sinbin with the Pumas leading 13-9 (Japan had upset the Springboks the previous day). And with Wayne Barnes on the whistle, it all felt a bit like Cardiff 2007 revisited. The All Blacks were making uncharacteristic errors but they slowly gained the ascendancy to get their World Cup campaign under way.
3. Sept 25, Olympic Stadium, London - All Blacks 58 Namibia 14
It's not often the All Blacks can score more than 50 points and feel disappointed but some had expected a scoreline closer to the 145-17 defeat of Japan at the 1995 World Cup. Namibia provided stiffer competition than predicted and, combined with All Black mistakes and ill-discipline, they emerged with credit. Perhaps the best thing for the All Blacks was that they emerged with no injuries.
4. Oct 3, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff - All Blacks 43 Georgia 10
If fans were a little fidgety after the first two pool games, they were downright worried after this one. They bungled their way through against Georgia in an unimpressive display and even went 25 minutes without scoring a try. As Gregor Paul of the Herald suggested, maybe it was all part of a masterplan to convince the world they shouldn't be favourites for the World Cup. It emerged later the All Blacks had been staging intense training sessions because they would gain more from those than one-sided pool games.
5. Oct 10, St James' Park, Newcastle - All Blacks 47 Tonga 9
This was more like it. By the end of this match, as they started to pile on the points, the All Blacks machine was starting to look like it was running like it should. The bench again made a big difference, with the likes of Beauden Barrett and Sonny Bill Williams taking advantage of a tiring Tongan defence, and Carter played almost as well as he did against Australia in the first win of the sequence.
6. Oct 18, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff - All Blacks 62 France 13
Wow. The build-up had been all about 2007, when the All Blacks were upset by France at the same stage and venue but those demons were well and truly exorcised. In the end, it was a rout - nine tries to one - and Julian Savea was almost unstoppable as he ran in three tries (the second was Lomuesque as he went through two defenders). In terms of a statement, this had multiple exclamation marks
7. Oct 25, Twickenham, London - All Blacks 20 South Africa 18
Apparently dropped goals were an Achilles heel for the All Blacks. Dan Carter slotted the most important of his career to help Steve Hansen's side into another final. This semifinal was more tense than a murder mystery as the Springboks refused to yield. It was brutal at times, physically and emotionally draining, but the All Blacks dealt with the immense pressure to progress
to the final.
8. Nov 1, Twickenham, London - All Blacks 34 Australia 17
The All Blacks not only became the first nation to successfully defend the World Cup but also the first New Zealand side to triumph away from home. The final score probably flattered the All Blacks, given Australia had all the momentum when trailing 21-17 going into the final quarter. In the end, it was comfortable due only to Carter's incredible last 10 minutes in an All Blacks jersey (a drop goal and penalty from halfway) before Barrett sealed the match with a try. It was a fitting way for Carter, Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu and Keven Mealamu to bow out as All Blacks.
Apparently the All Blacks would be vulnerable with a hatful of legends having retired. Well, it was business as usual. After a nervous-looking first half against an adventurous Wales, the All Blacks found their rhythm and confidence and looked every inch like they did for the past four years. They didn't panic when put under pressure and were particularly good in the final quarter as their bench made their customary impact. A new cycle, same result.
10. June 18, Westpac Stadium - All Blacks 36 Wales 22
Once again, the All Blacks clicked in the second half. They had been scratchy in the first 40 minutes, as they lacked control and cohesion, but two tries in three minutes sent them on their way to another win. There was some concern for Aaron Cruden, who was stretchered off with what looked like a serious neck injury, and disappointment they allowed Wales to score two late tries.
11. June 25, Forsyth Barr Stadium - All Blacks 46 Wales 6
While they scored more than 40 points against decent opposition, there was a nagging sense the All Blacks could have scored more. The speed with which the All Blacks played was too quick for Wales, who were a rabble by the end and seemingly counting down to the final whistle, and Barrett excelled starting in the No 10 jersey for the injured Cruden. He scored a double and kicked seven goals in a 26-point haul.
12. Aug 20, ANZ Stadium, Sydney - Australia 8 All Blacks 42
A bug went through the All Blacks camp but, unlike the 1995 World Cup final, this wasn't in any way debilitating. In fact, the presence of a listening device found in the All Blacks team room and launch of a police investigation served only to focus them further. Australia were awful and the All Blacks very good in this one-sided match. Barrett was, once again, brilliant, looking assured and accurate in the No 10 jersey and the points stacked up quickly.
13. Aug 27, Westpac Stadium - All Blacks 29 Australia 9
The gulf in class between the two sides was highlighted again as the All Blacks retained the Bledisloe Cup with a game in hand (they've held the transtasman trophy since 2003). If anything, the finishing was the only part missing - it wasn't as clinical or ruthless as it needed to be. It's why New Zealand led by only 15-9 at halftime before their inevitable second-half surge.
14. Sept 10, Waikato Stadium - All Blacks 57 Argentina 22
This result looks like a hiding, and in the end it was, but Argentina were right in the game after 50 minutes when they trailed 24-22. The Pumas played with heart and adventure in what was arguably the All Blacks' toughest challenge of the year. But four tries in 13 minutes saw the home side destroy Argentina's hopes of a first ever win over the All Blacks.
15. Sept 17, AMI Stadium - All Blacks 41 South Africa 13
Aaron Smith was brilliant in this match. He wasn't quite so good the following day when he indulged in a toilet tryst at Christchurch Airport. It rather detracted from what was another sublime performance. The Springboks 'lived' with the All Blacks for 55 minutes playing limited rugby before they capitulated against a black tide and the All Blacks reclaimed the Rugby Championship with two rounds remaining.
16. Oct 2, Estádio José Amalfitani, BA - Argentina 17 All Blacks 36
In a change to previous games, the All Blacks won this one in the first half. They led 29-3 at the break as centre Anton Lienert-Brown shone, highlighting the amazing depth in New Zealand rugby. The only issues were discipline related in the second half as the errors and penalties mounted and the Pumas out-scored their opponents to make the score look respectable.
17. Oct 9, Kings Park, Durban - South Africa 15 All Blacks 57
If a team are only as good as their last game, the All Blacks are on a different stratosphere. They annihilated the Springboks on their own turf, scoring 45 points in a free-wheeling second half, posting a record win against their traditional foes and recording a recording-equalling 17th-straight win. As South Africa played archaic rugby, the All Blacks redefined post-modernism.