OPINION: The numbers prove the All Blacks are not a myth.
In the amateur game the All Blacks had an impressive and unrivalled winning percentage in world rugby. Somehow, that's got even better since the game went professional.
That's probably surprised a few people. The general feeling as the professional era dawned was that with investment, with sports science, and with the determination of other countries to bridge the gap, the All Blacks might lose some of their dominance.
Instead, as the professional game has unfolded the All Blacks have become more consistent, and more dominant.
Adding weight to this is the fact that only on rare occasions now do they play second-tier nations. There are few "soft" tests on their schedule.
But being the best in the world doesn't happen by chance. Here are five key things I believe give us the competitive advantage, and the ability to win so consistently on the biggest stage.
1 THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE:
New Zealand is a country born of the outdoors. Our relatively small population and proximity to wide open spaces mean when it's time for kids to play there are few boundaries.
It's never hard to find a rugby field, tennis court, cricket pitch or, in a worst-case scenario, a park with nothing but green grass. Our climate is also near perfect for outdoor sports. Rarely does it get either too hot or too cold to pursue your competition.
2 PRODUCING THE PERFECT ATHLETES:
Rugby has always been for all shapes and sizes and even with the greater physical demands of the modern game, it still provides opportunities for big, small and in between.
Whether it be the physical presence of the tight five, relentless attitude of the loose trio, speed and guile of the inside backs, power and explosiveness of the midfield or the sheer athleticism of an outside back, rugby has a place for all.
New Zealand has long produced players with a hard physical edge through our strong rural communities. People who live off the land have tended to gravitate towards the game.
But as our community has become more diverse, and the Pacific Island athlete has emerged as a major force, we've developed a seemingly limitless supply of talent.
As much as rugby is a tactical game, without the raw physical product it is difficult to succeed.
3 BEST DEVELOPMENT COMPETITIONS:
The best way to develop players is through the pressure of competition. At all levels in New Zealand, whether it's first XV, club, provincial or professional, there is a reward for success, whether it be selection for higher honours or the raising of a championship trophy.
Players are exposed to pressure and competition all the way through and this brings out the best -- and worst -- in individuals.
Each level of rugby brings its own demands but the constant in New Zealand is the structure surrounding the game which demands success.
Right from school through to the All Blacks you will be tested as to whether you meet the demands required at the next stage.
New Zealand also has the world's best talent identification system. Players are earmarked early, given every opportunity to improve and are tested on every step to prove their worth.
4 BEST COACHES:
No other nation has as many international coaches as New Zealand.
Not only are we dedicated as players, but the moment the boots are removed there is an innate sense to give back to the game.
With so many competitive levels of rugby in New Zealand, there is plenty of opportunity for ex-players to become coaches, and to pass on their knowledge.
Rugby needs volunteers. What continues to impress me is the quality of those who give their time to help bring the best out of our young talent.
It's all very well having the best talent but it's how it's mentored, supported and developed that sets our depth of player apart from the rest of the world.
Knowledge needs to be passed down, and when generations are connected by a depth of understanding of what's required on and off the field, it can be delivered precisely.
5 OUR CULTURE AND HISTORY:
The All Blacks have always been a huge part of the New Zealand way of life.
If we think about our ability to deliver on the world stage, rugby is our biggest asset.
For well over a century, we have travelled to all corners of the earth, and shown a constant ability to almost punch above our weight - to prove, in a manner of speaking, that size doesn't matter.
Every country has a national sport but few would boast the connection New Zealand has for rugby. It's a game passed down the generations, and the camaraderie, competitiveness, and desire to be an All Black has always served this country well.
It's hard to imagine New Zealand without rugby. And the game continues to grow because we retain a determination to prove ourselves the best. In 2011 at the World Cup that sense of desperation was evident, and vital.
As we approach the World Cup of 2015, the All Blacks have probably never looked better.
They're not a myth, as some say. In this case the numbers don't lie.
ALL BLACKS – THE WINNING WAY
ALL TIME TEST RECORD Played 504 / won 382 / drawn 18 / lost 104 win percentage 75.8%
LAST DECADE 2004-13 Played 123 / won 106 / lost 16 / drawn 1 win percentage 86.2%
UNDER HANSEN Played 20 / won 18 / drawn 1 / lost 1 win percentage 90%
OTHER DOMINANT INTERNATIONAL TEAMS LAST DECADE
AUSTRALIAN CRICKET 2004-13 Played 112 / won 63 / drew 22 / lost 27 win percentage 56%
BRAZIL FOOTBALL 2004-13 Played 161 / won 104 / drawn 37 / lost 20 win percentage 65%
USA BASKETBALL 2004-13 (Olympic/world champs) Played 41 / won 37 / lost 4 win percentage 90%
- © Fairfax NZ News