Randell: The only way is up for the All Blacks

TAINE RANDELL
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2013

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OPINION: I like the mentality of these All Blacks as they seek their place in history in Dublin tomorrow.

A win against Ireland would mean 14 wins in 2013, and they would be the first team in the professional era to win every test in a calendar year.

I sense some clever motivation as Steve Hansen's side seek perfection.

When a UK reporter spotted the slogan "we are the most dominant team in the history of the world" written on the whiteboard in the All Blacks hotel team room last week, the story caused quite a stir.

Such claims aren't usually the way of the All Blacks who prefer the understated approach, letting their actions speak for themselves.

Public chest-beating is more part of the Australian or English psyche.

Of course, the words weren't meant for public consumption, but they speak loudly about the attitude in the sanctuary of the All Blacks' bunker.

The message from Hansen is clear - we may hold the World Cup, we may be ranked No 1 in the world, but we aren't resting on our laurels - we want to improve and make the best even better.

These are lofty goals but they are worthy ones and they are clearly giving these players something to strive for.

So where do this team sit if they do beat Ireland?

There have been many great All Blacks sides with their own significant achievements. A lot has been written lately comparing the current squad to the team of 1996-97. A perfect year would see Hansen's record over the past two years read 27 tests, 25 wins, a draw and the one loss to England last year.

In 1996, John Hart's All Blacks won a test series in South Africa for the first time and went on to a dominant 1997 season that saw them win 28 tests, draw two and lose one.

Strong similarities, but I think a more appropriate parallel lies between the 1987-89 All Blacks and the current team from 2011-13.

Both won World Cups and both went on to be the dominant teams for the two years after climbing rugby's Everest - the only teams to accomplish that since the World Cup was created.

Most cup winners have quickly faded.

The only question mark over the 1987-89 team would be the absence of the Springboks for political reasons while Hansen's heroes have beaten everyone.

The earlier team revolutionised the way the game was played, and the current mob have taken performance to another level in their own way.

But the reason I like the parallels between our two World Cup-winning teams is because I believe Hansen has learned the lessons of 1987 - under Alex Wyllie, the team got too old and ran out of steam when it came to defending their title.

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Hansen has considered that as he strives to be at the helm of an All Blacks side aiming to be the first team to defend the Webb Ellis Cup.

While we bask in the glow of the success of the past two years, it may be that next year will be an even bigger challenge for the All Blacks as they try to keep this roll going.

Cleverly, Hansen has already taken steps to avoid Wyllie's wobbles.

He has established succession plans in key areas and the depth of talent is unrivalled.

Young players have already been introduced as many of the 2011 winners - sensibly - moved on.

Hansen has also managed to get more out of his established players with clever management on and off the field.

It's a recipe that has them deservedly on the cusp of being a legendary All Blacks team.

The perfect year beckons for a team with a perfectionist attitude.

Taine Randell is a former All Blacks captain.

- Fairfax Media

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