Last week we mentioned, in a blasé kind of way, that the All Blacks were about to line up for their ninth quarter-final in nine World Cups. The reasons rankings didn't get all gooey about such a stat is that it's unthinkable that the All Blacks would get knocked out in pool play – there just aren't enough good teams.
This week they're preparing for their eighth semifinal in nine World Cups. Now that is freakin' bat-guano crazy. Wherever you're reading this, think about the sustained level of excellence such a record requires then slowly rise from wherever you're sitting to give them a round of applause.
To put this achievement into perspective with other Tier One nations, Warren Gatland is readying Wales for their third semifinal, while England and South Africa will be playing their fifth (admittedly the latter didn't get a chance in 1987 or '91). Ireland have never played one, an unenviable record they share with Italy. Argentina have played two, which is one more than Scotland.
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The French, in contrast to their capricious reputation, have actually been a model of consistency and were just a couple of points and a brain-dead red card from contesting their seventh.
Today we rank the seven previous semifinals involving New Zealand, from worst through to best. When performances are similarly poor or great, they will be separated by strength of opposition and general sense of occasion.
7. France 43 New Zealand 31 (London, 1999)
It wasn't the loss that hurt as much as the abject circumstances surrounding it.
France had finished last in the Five Nations in 1999. They were such outsiders that bookmakers gave them generous odds of 15/2 to win. So yeah, nobody gave them a chance. When they went 14 points down soon after halftime those odds would have gone from generous to astronomical.
What followed was either a miracle or calamity depending what side of the blue-black divide you resided on.
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France rattled on 26 straight points playing an unhinged brand of rugby. While every bounce of the ball went their way, it would be an injustice to call them lucky. They played without fear of consequence, almost the opposite of how the All Blacks reacted.
"We just made too many mistakes and the French capitalised. I hate to think how many balls we dropped today," coach John Hart lamented in an aftermath that quickly turned toxic when players revealed they had been brutalised by the French but had been told they could not retaliate.
Many people, particularly South Islanders, were waiting for Hart to fail. The sheen had come off his tenure during a miserable 1998 and there was a sense that this team was overhyped and pampered.
Whether that was true or not was debatable but what is not up for argument is that many New Zealanders acted shamefully in response to the loss.
The vitriol that was directed at Hart and struggling captain Taine Randell in particular went well beyond the pale. It exposed a nasty side of the rugby public that would rear its head every four years until the cycle was broken in 2011.
6. Australia 16 New Zealand 6 (Dublin, 1991)
The Wallabies could call on creative geniuses in their backline like Nick Farr-Jones, David Campese, Michael Lynagh, Tim Horan and Jason Little. New Zealand countered with Kieran Crowley, who was pulled out of his Kapuni cowshed as an 11th-hour replacement for the injured Terry Wright. It wasn't a fair fight.
This was not a particularly good All Blacks side, nor a particularly happy one, with the august NZRFU deciding to pair Alex Wyllie and John Hart as co-coaches despite their obvious antipathy for each other.
The All Blacks were still riding the coattails of a dominant Auckland NPC team and 10 of those who started this match played their provincial rugby in blue-and-white hoops.
Auckland's dominance, however, has disguised the fact that many of these players were on the wrong side of their best footy.
After Campese and Horan scored brilliant tries, this match lacked any suspense. It was 13-0 at halftime and felt like much more.
As a final insult, the Ireland crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Australia as the Wallabies had made a point of connecting with the locals during their stay.
5. Australia 22 New Zealand 10 (Sydney, 2003)
This game will be remembered for two defining moments: Stirling Mortlock's intercept and George Gregan's taunt.
"Four more years, boys," Gregan preached as the clock wound down but the All Blacks showed him up for a fool – it was actually eight more years.
There was the usual All Black selection weirdness, most notably the inclusion of Leon MacDonald at centre even though Tana Umaga had professed himself fit and ready to play after overcoming a knee injury.
Australia didn't do a lot of damage because they didn't have to, the All Blacks were too busy shooting themselves in the foot. Spencer's cut-out pass in the 10th minute could not have been more telegraphed if he had written Mortlock an email the day before telling where to be at what time.
Spencer has lived with the contempt for that action since but people conveniently forgot that it was his jinking run and pass that put Reuben Thorne in for a try just before halftime to bring the score back to 13-7.
It wasn't a sign of things to come. The All Blacks couldn't get anything going against Eddie Jones' defensive strategy (ominous, much?), a fact that was made more difficult to take as they had put 50 points on them on the same ground earlier in the year.
It there was a moment of levity it came with the knowledge that John Mitchell and Robbie Deans, whose disdain for the media was never far from the surface, would be job hunting soon.
4. New Zealand 20 South Africa 18 (London, 2015)
Finally, some good news.
Richie McCaw always had a belief that in every RWC campaign there came a moment when the fate of the team hung in the balance.
In 2011 it was the final half an hour against a Thierry Dusautoir-inspired France, in 2015 it was the second half of this match.
New Zealand were the better side but the problem was that Jerome Garces kept penalising them, and Handre Pollard and Patrick Lambie kept knocking them over. The Boks led 12-7 at halftime, the All Blacks unable to add anything to Jerome Kaino's sixth-minute try.
Worse, they had been reduced to 14 men after a needlessly cynical Kaino penalty.
The All Blacks refused to buckle. Dan Carter knocked over a dropped goal from first-phase ball off a lineout and Ma'a Nonu put super-sub Beauden Barrett over in the corner shortly after. A penalty took it out to a 20-12 lead.
Now it was time for Bok resilience. Two more penalties brought them right back but the All Blacks rode an impressive defence and the match ended with grizzled legend Victor Matfield knocking on in contact.
It really was a strange game. The heavy rain didn't help proceedings but there was something really old-fashioned about the grind.
The best team won, but it was closer than anyone liked.
3. New Zealand 49 Wales 6 (Brisbane, 1987)
Footage of the '87 semifinals seems impossibly quaint. They were played on club grounds – Concord Oval and Ballymore – and the former had an unsightly strut in the grandstand that would split the television picture at inopportune times.
Ballymore was slightly more picturesque but it looked more like a battleground after the All Blacks laid waste to Wales.
Wales had a decent backline including the brilliant Jonathan Davies but they only had rare glimpses of the ball as the All Blacks pack buried their counterparts.
They scored eight tries, including pairs for John Kirwan, who was in his pomp, and Buck Shelford, who was remarkably lucky to still be on the field for his second try after he cold-cocked Neath lock Huw Richards.
In fact, that's what the game is probably remembered most for. Richards emerged from a maul and punched Gary Whetton in the head. Shelford saw this and landed a punch flush on Richards' jaw, knocking him senseless.
The poor bugger then suffered the indignity of being revived by his trainer only to be ordered from the field by ref Kerry Fitzgerald.
In another curiosity, it is hard to think of another test match where so many future league converts were playing.
Mark Brooke-Cowden, Kirwan and John Gallagher would all make the switch to league, as did Davies, Adrian Hadley and John Devereux.
2. New Zealand 20 Australia 6 (Eden Park, 2011)
A gritty All Black performance combined with an electric atmosphere made this a night to remember.
It sounds strange to say this about a test at Eden Park, but if the All Blacks were favourites it was by the barest of margins.
Many pundits predicted that the Australian loosies led by David Pocock would rattle the inexperienced first-five Aaron Cruden, who had been drafted in after a devastating injury to Dan Carter and subsequent injury to Colin Slade.
Instead it was Pocock conceding penalties and Cruden orchestrating some penetrative attack that were the early highlights of the match.
Ma'a Nonu scored after brilliant work from Israel Dagg, who was preferred at the back over 100-test veteran Mils Muliaina. It was to be the only try of the game, though Kaino had to deny all the laws of physics to hold Digby Ioane up.
Australia hoisted most of its possession high into the air but wings Richard Kahui and Cory Jane were near impeccable.
The only All Black who had reason not to enjoy his night was Sonny Bill Williams who came on as a sub in the 72nd minute and departed three minutes later after being yellow carded by Craig Joubert.
Unbelievably, this was the first time the All Blacks had beaten Australia at a World Cup.
The hard work was done, nearly every New Zealand felt, the final would be a formality.
1. New Zealand 45 England 29 (Cape Town, 1995)
Keith Quinn's seminal, borderline R-rated commentary of Jonah Lomu's opening try set the scene for New Zealand's greatest semifinal performance (and it's not even close).
The build-up had been dominated by England wing Tony Underwood's dismissive analysis of the threat of Lomu, saying to effect that he had yet to come up against meaningful opposition.
After his four-try demolition of England, he was still waiting. It would come a week later.
The game was effectively over by halftime, with the All Blacks leading 25-3 and a shell-shocked England unlikely candidates to chase down a big lead.
To give the men in white some credit, they ran in four second-half tries and finished the stronger side, but the damage was done.
As an exclamation point, the exquisitely skilled No 8 Zinzan Brooke landed a 45m dropped goal on the angle. What is less well known is that it came after Robin Brooke, a lock, had pinned England deep with a raking spiral punt.
Quinn's commentary of the drop goal is less celebrated but much better: "Zinzan Brooke is aiming a drop kick from a MILLION MILES OUT… WHAT A GOAL!"
"I used to practice all the time. I loved kicking," Brooke would later say. "Why should it be the flyhalf who kicks the ball?"