OPINION: By Mick Cleary of the Telegraph

All of New Zealand should be cheering on England on Sunday (NZT) in Dublin as they look to eclipse the All Blacks' winning streak of 18 consecutive victories. Yes, and pigs may fly. But seriously, the All Blacks have had it their way for too long, dominating the global scene to the point where too many of their followers have become smug and dismissive. They need a challenge and they need a kick up the backside.

The scorn has been seeping through so many missives emanating from New Zealand that England's record-equalling achievement does not stand scrutiny with the mark set by the All Blacks.

More tries, more points, better differentials, sharper in attack, sterner in defence, on and on it went as if it really were a forensic evaluation of the All Blacks' worth and England's inferior status.


As with all stats, there is a large measure of baloney inherent in them. Such and such a player has made so many carries, run for so many metres. Sounds impressive until you get round to asking whether that player was a) running in the right direction b) ought to have passed the ball sooner.

Sure, the All Blacks winning streak was impressive. It did include the little matter of winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup and there was some decent rugby played. You could argue, of course, that the games played in that tournament were not away from home but actually neutral venues so the 'away wins' column is not quite as positively loaded as it might appear. A minor quibble.

Many of those reluctant to acclaim England's achievement in easing alongside New Zealand by dint of Sunday's record 61-21 win over Scotland like to point out gleefully that Eddie Jones's side has not faced the All Blacks during this period. True. And neither did the All Blacks face England when racking up their run of success. Touche.

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There has been a lot of grumbling too about the fact that these sides will not meet for another 18 months, as if World Rugby ought to be a boxing promoter and rush to set up a 'Roll-up, Roll-Up' shoot-out every time two teams come to the top of the pile.

There is a forum where such matches happen and matter. It is called a World Cup. And it takes place every four years. That is when the issue is settled. And in that regard the All Blacks are very much kings of the roost.

As with the Lions, less is more. There is far more relish to be had in contemplating these fixtures than there is in them taking place every 12 months.

That England are on such a roll is terrific news for the sport in New Zealand as it feeds into the Lions. There is not a ticket to be had in either the North or the South Island but such has been the quality of play across the Six Nations Championship and England's surge to the line, that the prospects of a truly competitive series await.

Even die-hard, one-eyed All Black cheerleaders wanted for something more than was on offer during the last gloom-laden tour there in 2005, when the Lions were smashed in the Test series.

And that is why it was heartening to hear All Black coach Steve Hansen be magnanimous in his praise of England. Hansen is familiar with the northern hemisphere gig and knows how tough it is having suffered during his time as Wales coach. He has also identified the key upturn in England's game - their attitude and work-rate.

Eddie Jones himself highlighted the need for this team to be fitter and harder, in body and in mind, from the moment he took over. The rest follows from that premise. Some of it is a matter of conditioning, some a question of getting into the right head space.

Jonathan Joseph was rested against Italy and returned to deliver Sunday's bewitching performance. Maro Itoje was publicly taken down a peg or two, even if perhaps he didn't even need to be. Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury were left kicking their heels (and recovering from injury) as George Kruis and Itoje seemingly cemented their place as the starting second-rows in Jones's first season. And on it goes.

England have not got to this point by fluke. Their record run is remarkable. They have not gerrymandered the fixture list to help bring it about. They have won in Edinburgh, Rome, Paris, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Cardiff. And now Dublin awaits.

Never mind your own tribal affiliations. Of course such partisanship has its place, but the acknowledgement of sporting excellence should also animate all. It raises the bar for everyone.

England deserve acclaim, merit all the plaudits and if they do top the All Blacks' record on Sunday, they have every right to enjoy the status that comes with it.