The sort of protection halfback Chris Laidlaw is receiving from his forwards in this graphic shot from the 1966 series raises an obvious question: has there ever been a better pack in international rugby than this All Black one?

Because times change so much and comparisons between different eras are impossible to make, no one can be too sure. But Fred (The Needle) Allen, the All Black coach for that 1966 series, believes it would be difficult to find one much better.

Such was the quality of those forwards, he agrees, that they required very little coaching on his part.

Though helped by much uncertainty in the opposition, such as having to find a place for hapless captain Mike Campbell-Lamerton and trying to convert specialist locks into props, the All Black pack was the decisive factor in the 1966 whitewash.

So complete was its command that all eight pack members were retained for the four tests: Ken Gray, Bruce McLeod and Jack Hazlett in the front row, Colin and Stan Meads as locks and in the back row, Kel Tremain and Waka Nathan as flankers and Brian Lochore as No 8 and captain.

One of the most striking features of the pack was that it contained so many who were provincial captains.

Early in the tour Gray and Hazlett had led Wellington and South respectively to wins over the Lions, Tremain was then captain of Hawkes Bay, Colin Meads of King Country and Lochore of Wairarapa-Bush and McLeod captained Counties.

Also striking was the number with ties to the land. Five were listed as farmers, Tremain was a farm agent and Nathan a meat contractor. McLeod was a salesman.

Behind them, too, was another already experienced as captain, Laidlaw.

Indeed, one of the great debates early in the 1966 season was just who would be the All Black captain in succession to the retired Wilson Whineray.

Gray, Tremain, Meads and Laidlaw, in many quarters, were all considered to be even better qualified than Lochore who was something of a surprise appointment.

Of the 1966 pack only Hazlett might be reckoned to be, by international standards, a journeyman. After the 1966 series he played only another two tests before being overtaken in national ranking by Brian Muller and Alister Hopkinson.

But in any rating of greats Meads, Gray, Tremain and Lochore would be near the top, amassing between them 142 test caps, an extraordinarily high number for the era in which they played.

McLeod, who received 24 caps, was a magnificent hooker-forward with a penchant for scoring tries, Stan Meads as a lock was considered to be almost the equal of his brother and Nathan, a splendid loose forward, would have played far more than 14 tests but for an unlucky run with injuries.

But for retiring, Stan Meads would have gained more than his 15 caps.

If there was a pack as good as that of 1966 it would only have been that of 1965.

The All Blacks used the same eight that year, too, against the Springboks, with the Meads brothers, Gray, McLeod, Tremain and Lochore repeating their feat of a year later.

The changes from 1966 were Whineray for Hazlett and Red Conway for Nathan who for most of 1965 was out with one of the injuries which plagued his career.