Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Wynne Gray's dream All Blacks XV

All Blacks hooker Sean Fitzpatrick at the lineout in 1997. Photo / www.photosport.nz
All Blacks hooker Sean Fitzpatrick at the lineout in 1997. Photo / www.photosport.nz

Accolades for this All Black squad have been rising as regularly as house prices in Auckland. And for good reason, with 17 test victories in a row and a world record beckoning in front of a full house at a manicured Eden Park.

Whatever the outcome, these All Blacks deserve every plaudit for an unchecked list of results which began at the same venue on August 15, 2015.

Six men from the starting XV who began the run - Ben Smith, Julian Savea, Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Dane Coles - return to seek the record against the Wallabies, who have spoiled several previous attempts.

They are part of a high quality side which has taken rugby to new levels of skill and total immersion for themselves and those who follow the sport. They deserve the nation's admiration and pride.

In the absence of consistent combat for sporting praise from cricket, league and netball, the All Blacks have dominated the acres of admiration. Like the coverage of Aaron Smith and Dunnygate, some has gone too far.

These All Blacks are outstanding and rank with previous groups who built and sustained legacies for the nation's rugby players to try to emulate.

As the hype builds, a sense of proportion evaporates and memories are blurred about those who went before.

Let's mix it up a bit and mesh the current squad with those All Blacks of the late 1960s and the late 1980s who brought imposing players and sequences of international success.

The team in the late 1960s had to sustain their excellence across five years with truncated bursts of tests, while the initial World Cup winners motored through three seasons. It's been a shade over two years for the current men in black, who play a frenzied 14 tests in a season.

Who would be captain? Wilson Whineray, Brian Lochore, Wayne Shelford, Sean Fitzpatrick, Richie McCaw or Kieran Read - two of the three exceptional No8s are going to miss the cut. It also leaves out Zinzan Brooke, whose best test years came later.

That one example shows the immense depth in this country, where separating individuals is the stuff of fractions.

Who is your backline boss?

Beauden Barrett is playing with great aplomb and causing defences all sorts of grief with his speed and tactical kicking. He's won rapturous approval, with the one frown his goal-kicking inconsistency.

That was a gold standard in the late 1980s for current selector Grant Fox, whose delivery on the basics, sharp tactical brain and kicking magnificence drove the All Blacks.

Who do you pair your five-eighths with? Is it the smooth passing of Chris Laidlaw, the steel-wristed snap of Graeme Bachop's delivery to compare with the modern-day Smith or the brilliantly unorthodox Sid Going?

If McCaw wears the No7 jersey, does that eliminate the exceptional Michael Jones? If we shift Jones to blindside, then Ian Kirkpatrick, Jerome Kaino, Kel Tremain and Alan Whetton have to fight to out a spot on the bench.

The modern hooker has become another power-packed loosie with the ability to scrum hard and hit lineout targets. Dane Coles is monstering those standards, as did Fitzpatrick and in the late 1960s, Bruce McLeod, who was a hard-charging mobile athlete.

Why not wrestle with the pros and cons of this composite group from the three eras and see how New Zealand has painted it black for so many of their rivals?

Wynne Gray's dream All Blacks XV
15. Ben Smith
14. John Kirwan
13. Conrad Smith
12. Ma'a Nonu
11. Julian Savea
10. Grant Fox
9. Sid Going
8. Wayne Shelford
7. Richie McCaw
6. Michael Jones
5. Colin Meads
4. Brodie Retallick
3. Ken Gray
2. Sean Fitzpatrick (c)
1. Tony Woodcock

- NZ Herald

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