Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Hansen's squad has shades of '67 greats

Somewhere in Steve Hansen's head is the memory of the 1967 All Blacks team and their individual and collective athleticism and skill level. That team, which included Brian Lochore, Ian Kirkpatrick, Colin Meads and Kel Tremain, won 17 tests in a row and is the All Blacks side that Hansen rates as the best in history.

They had a dynamic, ball in hand approach to the game and they were, reckons Hansen, the team that locked into New Zealand minds that rugby can be played at a high tempo, with all 15 players contributing in open play.

What he liked most about that team, was the breadth of skills offered by the pack and it is with memories of that team, that he has built his own.

The similarity between the two is the ball-running capability of both packs. Meads was one of the great running locks - a skill he could offer because of his agility, speed and general mobility. Brodie Retallick in particular stacks as a modern version of Meads - equally athletic and mobile with the same desire to impose himself physically.

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Lochore was a No 8 who could play close to the ruck or wider - much the same way as Kieran Read does and Ian Kirkpatrick thumped along with or without the ball just as Jerome Kaino does.

"I always thought that 1967 team was the greatest to play for the All Blacks and there have been some great ones," says Hansen. "I think the players and the style of the game they played. If you think back, and while it is hard to compare, some of those players think they would suit playing Super Rugby. Some of the loose forwards who played, the big locks ... that team had forwards who could carry, right up to the front row.

"They were probably the team that said to New Zealand rugby this is not a bad way to play."

It was a team that certainly caught Hansen's imagination and ingrained in him the belief that forwards have to be able to operate beyond their core roles. It has been noted this season that the All Blacks are playing a brand of rugby that looks different to that being played by any other side.

There are multiple reasons why, but at the heart of it is the individual skill of the forwards. All of them, and that includes props Joe Moody and Owen Franks - are comfortable with the ball. They can all operate in space, all run into a hole and no one panics when they have to make a decision about when to pass.

None of the other Southern Hemisphere sides have the same range of ball carriers and ability to go forward and exploit space.

"Whenever All Blacks teams have had forwards who can carry the ball constructively and pass and catch, they are a very good team," says Hansen. "When we have had periods where we haven't been so successful, probably our skill level in the forwards hasn't been as high as it has been in some of the others.

"It is very pleasing and humbling [to be compared with the 1967 team]. One thing we understand in this group is that you don't own the jersey and you don't own the job you do in the team. We do have a rich history and the responsibility of the people who are passing through at the moment is to make sure they leave it in better shape than they found it."

- NZ Herald

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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