2013 review: 14-0 All Blacks 'The Unbeatables'

13:11, Dec 26 2013
All Blacks v Ireland
Brian O'Driscoll celebrates during the Ireland versus All Blacks game in Dublin.
All Blacks v Ireland
Irish eyes are smiling as Ireland are awarded a try against the All Blacks.
All Blacks v Ireland
Ben Smith puts in the tackle during this morning's test against Ireland in Dublin.
All Blacks v Ireland
Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll plays probably his final test against the All Blacks.
All Blacks v Ireland
Julian Savea gets the All Blacks on the board after a shocking start to the test match in Dublin.
All Blacks v Ireland
Paul O'Connell fights for the ball during today's epic test against Ireland in Dublin.
All Blacks v Ireland
Richie McCaw looks less than happy after his side's terrible start to the test in Dublin this morning.
All Blacks
Irish eyes certainly weren't smiling after the devastating last-second win for the All Blacks.
All Blacks
The dressing room celebration is under way after the remarkable last-second victory for the All Blacks in Dublin.
All Blacks
Coach Steve Hansen and skipper Richie McCaw share a moment after becoming the first team in professional rugby to celebrate a perfect season.
All Blacks
Aaron Cruden's first attempt at the conversion missed, but he was allowed to retake it after the Irish team charged early.
All Blacks
Aaron Cruden is mobbed after landing the sideline conversion to give the All Blacks an unlikely victory in Dublin.
All Blacks
Replacement Ryan Crotty goes over for the try that denied the Irish an historic victory in Dublin this morning.
All Blacks
The All Blacks celebrate as Aaron Cruden's conversion goes right down the middle.

These All Blacks were not the most entertaining we have seen, and probably not the most talented.

They did not possess the backline firepower of the 1995 to 1997 ilk, nor were they as far ahead of their rivals as the World Cup-winning class that ran riot from 1987 to 1989.

However, the class of 2013 was the most experienced All Blacks side of all time and possibly the best prepared.

Dan Carter
Dan Carter lines up a kick at goal before leaving the field injured.
All Blacks haka
The England squad stand tall against the haka.
All Blacks haka
Liam Messam leads the Kapa o Pango haka.
Kieran Read
Kieran Read dives over for his second try in as many matches.
Julian Savea
Julian Savea places the ball down for the All Blacks' opening five-pointer.
Ben Smith
Ben Smith skips out of the tackle of English fullback Mike Brown.
Owen Franks
All Blacks prop Owen Franks finds space behind the English defence.
Kieran Read
Kieran Read off-loads a pass on the inside as he gets tackled.
Dan Carter
Dan Carter sits on the bench after leaving the field in the first half with an injury.
Israel Dagg
Israel Dagg is hit with a shoulder from Chris Robshaw.
Dan Carter
Dan Carter is honoured post-match with his 100th test cap.
Dan Carter
100-test All Black Dan Carter with his father Neville.
All Blacks
The All Blacks pose with the Hilary Shield after defeating England 30-22.
All Blacks centurions
All Blacks centurions (from left) Tony Woodcock, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Keven Mealamu.

It will be their ability to stay in the moment, absorb pressure and solve the problems they faced that marks them apart.

Wins over France, England and Ireland at the end of a long season highlighted their resilience, character and determination.

But more than that, they showed a team that had been through every conceivable situation before.

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All Blacks v Wallabies in Dunedin
The All Blacks lay down the challenge.
All Blacks v Wallabies in Dunedin
Julian Savea scores the opening try for the All Blacks.
All Blacks v Wallabies in Dunedin
Steve Hansen and Richie McCaw await kick-off.
All Blacks v Wallabies in Dunedin
Peter Betham is tackled by Charles Piutau.
All Blacks v Wallabies in Dunedin
Jeremy Thrush makes a surging run upfield.
All Blacks v Wallabies in Dunedin
Israel Dagg makes a bust for the All Blacks.
All Blacks v Wallabies in Dunedin
Charles Piutau makes a charging run for the All Blacks.
All Blacks v Wallabies in Dunedin gallery
Sam Cane goes into score for the All Blacks with encouragement from Aarom Smith.
All Blacks v Wallabies in Dunedin gallery
The Bledisloe Cup takes pride of place before the test.
All Blacks v Wallabies in Dunedin gallery
The Wallabies sing the Australian national anthem prior to kick-off.

These players were the survivors of the 2007 World Cup quarterfinal nightmare in Cardiff, the World Cup winners of 2011, the men who endured an agonising loss to England at Twickenham in 2012, and everything in between.

Their coach was there for all of those moments too and his deep understanding of his players' workloads, both mentally and physically, was an enormous asset.

Steve Hansen never got ahead of himself, as many All Blacks coaches have in the past.

All Blacks v Argentina in Hamilton gallery
Debutant Francis Saili makes a strong run.
All Blacks v Argentina in Hamilton gallery
Israel Dagg is just held in the tackle.
All Blacks v Argentina in Hamilton gallery
Aaron Smith goes in to score for the All Blacks.
All Blacks v Argentina in Hamilton gallery
Argentina fans show support for their team.
All Blacks v Argentina in Hamilton gallery
Kieran Read offloads in the tackle.
All Blacks v Argentina gallery
Aaron Smith and Julian Savea celebrate Smith's try.
Richie McCaw gallery
Richie McCaw is helped from the field with an injury that is set to keep him out of the remainder of the Rugby Championship.
All Blacks v Pumas
All Blacks' debutante Francis Saili breaks the tackle of Argentina's Nicolas Sanchez.
All Blacks v Pumas
Steven Luatau , left tries to get a pass away on the side line to Ben Smith.
All Blacks v Argentina
All Blacks debutante Francis Saili puts the fend on Puma Pablo Matera , left and Marcelo Bosch.
All Blacks v Argentina
Aaron Smith breaks away from the back of a scrum.
All Blacks v Argentina
Francis Saili tries to squeeze through Puma defenders Pablo Matera , left and Juan Manuel Leguizamon.
All Blacks v Argentina
Steven Luatau is caught by a Puma defender.
All Blacks v Argentina
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw led the haka.
All Blacks v Argentina
Dan Carter is caught by Pumas wing Marcelo Bosch.
All Blacks v Argentina
The All Blacks faced tough conditions in Hamilton.

When you are so stacked with firepower and talent, it is easy to try to over-extend in attack.

The All Blacks' style this season was not conservative, but nor was it extravagant.

That serves an important purpose during a long season where rotation is imperative and bit-part players may be asked to step in at crucial moments.

Wallabies vs All Blacks
The Wallabies faced the Haka but Quade Copper looked to the skies.
Wallabies vs All Blacks
The All Blacks line up for the National Anthems before kick-off.
Wallabies vs All Blacks
Michael Hooper is tackled by Aaron Cruden as he tries to make a break.
Wallabies vs All Blacks
Ben Smith dives over the score for the All Blacks.
Wallabies vs All Blacks
Adam Ashley-Cooper evades the tackle of Israel Dagg.
Wallabies vs All Blacks
A TV camera shot showing Richie McCaw scoring in the corner for the All Blacks.
Wallabies vs All Blacks
Will Genia dives over to score for the Wallabies.
Wallabies vs All Blacks
Aaron Smith spins a pass from a ruck under the gaze of Andrew Hore.
Wallabies vs All Blacks
Ma'a Nonu on the charge for the All Blacks.
Wallabies vs All Blacks
Michael Hooper and Brodie Retallick get up close and personal.
Wallabies vs All Blacks
Conrad Smith dives over to score for the All Blacks.
Israel Dagg
Israel Dagg breaks out of the tackle of two Wallabies.

Tom Taylor slotted in at first five-eighth on debut against Australia in Wellington and Ryan Crotty scored the most important try of the year, in Dublin.

This team knew their strengths and weaknesses and played to them all year.

The lineout was a strength, the scrum was a work on, the bench was a trusted and non-negotiable asset.

All Blacks in Wellington, fanzone and buildup
Daniel Pearson, left, and Lex Bloomfield, both from Motueka, support opposite sides.
All Blacks in Wellington, fanzone and buildup
Fans hyped up ahead of the game.
All Blacks in Wellington, fanzone and buildup
Michael Hooper is tackled during The Rugby Championship Bledisloe Cup match between the All Blacks and the Wallabies.
All Blacks in Wellington, fanzone and buildup
Debutant Tom Taylor makes a burst.
All Blacks vs Wallabies: Bledisloe II
Michael Hooper on the charge for the Wallabies.
All Blacks vs Wallabies: Bledisloe II
Brodie Retallick and James Horwill contest a lineout.
All Blacks in Wellington, fanzone and buildup
The All Blacks celebrate after Ben Smith scores.
All Blacks vs Wallabies: Bledisloe II
Tom Taylor kicks off his debut test for the All Blacks.
All Blacks vs Wallabies: Bledisloe II
Ben Smith, centre, celebrates his try with Israel Dagg, left, and Conrad Smith.
All Blacks in Wellington, fanzone and buildup
Steven Luatua shows some pace.
All Blacks win Bledisloe Cup
The All Blacks pose for the cameras with the Bledisloe Cup.
All Blacks win Bledisloe Cup
Captain Richie McCaw holds the Bledisloe Cup aloft.
Tony Woodcock and Richie McCaw
Richie McCaw (right) presents Tony Woodcock with a cap for his 100th All Blacks test.

The tactical kicking was not always perfectly executed, but it was done in the right part of the field and with purpose and planning - Mick Byrne should take a bow.

Halfbacks kicked to regain possession. Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden and Ma'a Nonu did the same from short kickoffs and their ability to see and exploit space in behind the defence was a constant.

At fullback Israel Dagg was disciplined in his option-taking at the back, where he rarely set off on solo missions.

All Blacks vs Springboks
Dan Carter comes of with an injury as Bismarck du Plessis tries to apologise for his tough, but fair hit. The referee saw it differently.
All Blacks vs Springboks
Brodie Retallick goes into score for the All Blacks.
All Blacks vs Springboks
A bloodies Sam Cane contests for the ball.
All Blacks vs Springboks
Kieran Read manages to offload despite intense pressure from the All Black defence.
Ben Smith
All Blacks wing Ben Smith attempts to break through two Springboks defenders.
Dane Coles
Dane Coles gets in a three-point stance as he prepares to charge.
Brodie Retallick
The All Blacks celebrate Brodie Retallick's try.
All Blacks
The All Blacks jog back to halfway after Kieran Read's second try.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam grimaces after being hit in the throat by Bismarck du Plessis.
Duane Vermuelen
Boks No 8 Duane Vermuelen is tackled by Beauden Barrett.
All Blacks and Springboks
The All Blacks and Springboks scuffle after a hard tackle on Dan Carter.
Springboks replacement Patrick Lambie reaches out to score late in the second half.
Sam Cane
A bloodied Sam Cane epitomised the toughness of All Blacks-South Africa test matches.
Ma'a Nonu and Kieran Read
All Blacks Ma'a Nonu and Kieran Read watch the match from the sin-bin after both receiving late yellow cards.

The All Blacks backs set out to break the line from set pieces.

Nonu's pop pass to wing Ben Smith from a lineout against Argentina at La Plata was the highlight of the year.

But it was what happened next that ensured success, right to the last play against Ireland.

Ben Smith
Ben Smith evades the tackle of Morne Steyn to score in the first half.
Kieran Read
Kieran Read fends off Willem Alberts.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam is all smiles after scoring his first of two tries in the first half.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam points skyward after scoring the first of his two tries.
Fourie du Preez
Springboks halfback Fourie du Preez boots a box kick from the back of a ruck.
Bryan Habana
Bryan Habana grabs his left hamstring after catching a clearing kick.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam steps inside a Sprinboks defender to score his second try.
Richie McCaw
Richie McCaw runs at the Springboks defence at Ellis Park.
Bryan Habana
A forlorn and injured Bryan Habana sits on the bench in the second half.
Beauden Barrett
Beauden Barrett skips away from Zane Kirchner to score the All Blacks' bonus point try.

The All Blacks used big men like Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick to create phase ball from the midfield and bigger men like Owen Franks and Tony Woodcock to clean the rucks.

Forwards knew their roles.

Kieran Read and Liam Messam lurked on the fringes, where they played like power backs and opened space on those precious metres near the touchline for men like Smith and Charles Piutau to prosper.

All Blacks v France: November 10
RICHIE'S CERTAINLY IN THE MOMENT: The haka was particularly electrifying at the Stade de France.
All Blacks v France: November 10
ALL WHITES: The boys don their white jerseys as they challenge France with a powerful haka.
All Blacks v France: November 10
STRONG LEADER: Liam Messam did a great job of leading the haka.
All Blacks v France: November 10
ALL BLACK BLOCK: Benjamin Kayser is challenged by New Zealand.
All Blacks v France: November 10
NO TRIES: The first half of the game was free of tries: here Liam Messan is tackled by France's Thierry Dusautoir.
All Blacks v France: November 10
MA'A!: Nonu just gets away from a tackle.
All Blacks v France: November 10
OUCH: France's Wesley Fofana gets a big hit on Israel Dagg.
All Blacks v France: November 10
AIR BALLET: Pascal Pope of France and Cory Jane of the All Blacks contest the ball during a line up.
All Blacks v France: November 10
NEW STAR: In a very experienced test team, it's the young and fresh Charles Piutau that's truly impressed this match.

To a man this team understood the simple ability to square up defenders and draw and pass.

It created myriad opportunities throughout a year notable for how many tries were scored out wide.

The attack stuttered at times. The All Blacks looked to commit minimal numbers to the breakdown and Aaron Smith had challenges clearing ball as a result.

All Blacks v Japan gallery
The All Blacks perform the haka.
All Blacks v Japan gallery
Debutant Frank Halai makes a charging run.
All Blacks v Japan gallery
Dominic Bird is taken in the tackle.
All Blacks v Japan gallery
Dane Coles attempts to pull in a pass one-handed.
All Blacks v Japan gallery
Richie McCaw and the All Blacks acknowledge the crowd in Tokyo after beating Japan.
All Blacks v Japan gallery
Frank Halai and Japan's Takashi Kikutani fight for the ball.
All Blacks v Japan gallery
Dan Carter is taken in a tackle.

But there was never panic.

Numbers were changed, referees taken into account, tempo adjusted.

The kick and chase game allowed the All Blacks to regather momentum when their running game hit a brick wall.

All Blacks
THE UNBEATABLES: The All Blacks in their Dublin changing room after their great escape against Ireland to complete professional rugby's first perfect international season.

Hansen's faith in his bench allowed his side to finish with a bang.

Other coaches may not have had so much faith in players like Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Crotty, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina and others.

Hansen did.

Defensively this team was immense. Captains Read and Richie McCaw, Whitelock, Franks, Messam went forward all year.

Nonu led a debilitating drift in the backs that bought time for the scrambling second line to pick up any breaches.

All Blacks defence coach Aussie McLean deserves a pat on the back.

Amid all the success, Hansen managed to blood 11 new caps, not including uncapped halfback TJ Perenara or apprentice openside Ardie Savea, as his post World Cup regeneration continued.

Wing Piutau was the pick of the newcomers and looks a long-term test centre, while blindside Steven Luatua was not far behind.

Read was the best player, Ben Smith the best back, hooker Dane Coles and Beauden Barrett improved immeasurably. Messam, Whitelock, Retallick, Julian Savea and McCaw were consistently at the top of their games.

Nonu was crucial if occasionally flawed, Dagg likewise, while the props including senior men Owen Franks and Woodcock all struggled to come to grips with the new engagement calls.

There were several tests where a side of less experience may have lost, including Johannesburg, Paris, London and Dublin.

The All Blacks' senior players changed and adapted to what was in front of them. They stayed calm. They won. They were, quite simply, The Unbeatables.

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