• More Than “A Decade of Dominance”

    When the All Blacks play Scotland at Murrayfield next Monday, it will be just over ten years since they last lost to one of the Six Nations countries on their own ground (the 2007 loss to France was at Cardiff). This “decade of dominance” – as it has been described by Northern hemisphere rugby writers – is just one more indication of how remarkably New Zealand has dominated the world game over its whole history.

    The All Blacks’ triumph in the World Cup tournament at home last year is of course still fresh in the memory. But that elusive victory is only one small part of the uniquely successful record they have established over more than a century of international rugby.

    The current All Blacks are the number one-ranked team, according to the International Rugby Board’s ranking system. Their margin over the second-ranked team is as great as the spread covering the next six teams and as a margin of superiority is surpassed only by – you’ve guessed it – an earlier All Blacks team.

    They have just won the inaugural Rugby Championship, having beaten each of the other three contenders (which include the second and third-ranked teams in the world) both at home and away. This success follows their record – in the predecessor of this competition – of having won more often than the other contenders combined.

    The All Blacks have the distinction of almost certainly being the “winningest” team in the whole history of international team sport. The Australians at cricket or the Brazilians at football come nowhere near the All Blacks’ winning percentage of just on 76% of all the test matches they have played against all-comers over 107 years. That ratio of wins comfortably exceeds the next-best Springboks on 62%; and, not surprisingly, reflects the fact that the All Blacks have a positive win-to-loss ratio against every opponent over the same period.

    As the All Blacks approach their end-of-season Northern tour, we should remind ourselves that three of the Six Nations countries have never beaten the All Blacks in a century of trying – and, in the case of Wales, their last victory came nearly sixty years ago. (I well remember being allowed to get up at 3 am to listen to Winston McCarthy’s commentary from the warmth of my parents’ bed, and how distraught I was, as a 13 year-old, when the All Blacks went down 13-8).

    That match stands out because, as is true for most teams, victories over the All Blacks have been so rare that a one-off or occasional triumph lives on in the annals of the successful opponent. Indeed, so great an achievement is a win against the All Blacks believed to be that their best-remembered matches around the world are often their occasional losses rather than their many wins.

    Not surprisingly, and as the recent $80 million sponsorship deal with AIG demonstrates, the All Blacks own the most potent brand in any major sport played internationally by national teams. It is no exaggeration to say that the All Blacks are the most widely recognised aspect of our international profile – something we can celebrate not only for sporting reasons but for what it tells the world about our bicultural heritage and multicultural society.

    But it is not just the All Blacks who represent New Zealand’s record of rugby success. The Chiefs’ win in the Super Rugby competition this year contributed to the impressive eleven wins by New Zealand teams in that competition’s seventeen-year history. The New Zealand Sevens team are the current holders of the IRB trophy and have an unsurpassed winning record in the history of the competition, as well as a series of Gold Medal wins in the Commonwealth Games. The Black Ferns are the current holders of the Women’s World Cup and have won the trophy on the past four occasions, dating back to 1998. New Zealand lost the final of the Under-20 World Cup this year to South Africa but had been champions for the preceding four years.

    Individuals as well as teams stand out. New Zealand players are prized in rugby teams across the globe, as are New Zealand coaches. Of the twenty teams at the World Cup tournament last year, five were coached by New Zealanders.

    These achievements are so comprehensive and longstanding that it is easy to become blasé. There is a tendency to take it all for granted, and to look for excitement and novelty elsewhere. Yet, as a contributor to a British newspaper remarked wonderingly last month, “how could a small country of only a few million stay at the top of a world sport for so long?”

    Even those who take little interest in rugby or even actively dislike it should be able to feel some pride in New Zealand rugby’s achievements. They can surely take some comfort from the fact that today’s teams are led by fine men and women as well as by fine players. And in Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter, we have two of the finest players ever to take the field. I tell my grandsons that they will be able to tell their grandchildren that they saw the great Richie McCaw and the great Dan Carter play.

    Bryan Gould

    29 October 2012