Perfect season beckons for great All Blacks side (& the risks related to it) by DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
October 14, 2013, 07:44:37
The desire to complete a perfect season will drive the All Blacks to maintain their standards when they confront Australia in the Bledisloe Cup dead rubber in Dunedin next Saturday.
Soaking up the accolades from last Sunday's stunning 38-27 win over the Springboks in Johannesburg won't distract Steve Hansen's squad for the task in hand.
They will have noticed that a few hours after they claimed what is being hailed as one of the greatest All Blacks wins, the Wallabies finally found their groove under new coach Ewen McKenzie, delivering a record 52-17 win against the Pumas in the difficult environment Argentina presents.
A Bledisloe meeting under the roof in Dunedin presents the opportunity for further heroics.
Rating All Blacks victories is never an easy assignment, given their rich history in the game as test rugby's most successful team.
Great has become a cliché for the All Blacks.
Rather than isolating a single test - as mighty as beating the Boks in their spiritual home was - perhaps there is more sense in evaluating the bigger picture.
It would be easier to claim that right now, the All Blacks are in the midst of one of their greatest eras.
The last four years have netted a World Cup and virtually every other piece of silverware on offer.
Since a sloppy 2009 saw the All Blacks lose four matches, they have put together a remarkable record.
This week's clash with the Wallabies will be their 50th test since June 2010. Of the 49 they have played, they have won 44, lost only four and drawn one.
Two of the losses came when they shuffled their squad on the eve of the 2011 World Cup, slipping up in Port Elizabeth and Brisbane.
Since then it's been almost blemish-free, a draw with the Wallabies and last year's unexpected loss to England in London the only hiccups.
They are now on a nine-test unbeaten run and a perfect calendar year is there for the taking. Australia in Dunedin is followed by Japan in Tokyo, France in Paris, England in London and Ireland in Dublin.
The All Blacks' ability to maintain their incredibly high standards over the past four years is a credit to their coaches, selectors, general management and, of course, their players.
Last week's triumph at Ellis Park was a performance waiting to happen for a team that thrives on challenging themselves as much as accepting the best their opponents offer.
But was it really any better than the last-gasp 29-22 thriller against the Boks in Soweto in 2010? Or the come-from-behind 32-16 demolition of the Boks in Soweto last year?
Don't forget, it takes two to tango and the Boks deserve credit for the part they played, not just last weekend but in all three of these classics, to remind us that they remain the All Blacks' toughest foe.
Games blur quickly in the modern environment, with so many tests played. That's why it might be better to simply bunch these three "great" victories into the one "great" era.
To produce the sort of consistency that has emerged over the past four years, the All Blacks have unveiled an unprecedented depth of talent.
By the time the final whistle sounded in Johannesburg last Sunday, it was the All Blacks third choice first-five Beauden Barrett who was being hailed the star of the show.
It wasn't long ago that the nation's knees knocked the moment Dan Carter got injured.
But consider the talent that has emerged at halfback and second row, look at the way Ben Smith has taken over from Cory Jane on the right wing, and how Julian Savea has slipped into the No 11 jersey to resemble another XXL island winger.
How good has Sam Cane been in Richie McCaw's absences?
Coping with these sorts of hurdles while maintaining your place at the head of the field is what truly defines greatness.
And central to the success of the past four remarkable years has been the seamless coaching transition from Sir Graham Henry to Hansen. This has allowed not just a continuation of successful systems but also an improvement.
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