Are 2012 All Blacks the best ever?
Off the long run
OPINION: So we face the "best ever" scenario again.
As the clamour to label Richie McCaw the best All Black continues to grow momentum (100 test victories is a solid boost), we now have the same arguments relating to the entire team.
What is this fascination we have with needing to know that today's heroes are better than those of yesteryear?
At least there is a bit less of an apples and oranges argument with this one, but is it still a Granny Smith versus a Red Delicious one?
Let's look at two "recent" candidates for the title of the best All Black team: the 1988 and 1996 sides.
Ahhh memories, candy for an old man's brain. The 1988 outfit were such a staunch team, led with absolute conviction and determination by Buck Shelford.
They refused to lose. It was like the option did not exist. I suspect even their opposition believed it. They dripped confidence from every pore and the challenge they set themselves was "how they would win".
This, of course, reeked of arrogance, but in 1988 it wasn't. It was just a simple knowing and confidence. In 1989 arrogance did seep in and by 1990 it had taken over and they (deservedly) fell from their perch.
Today we still worry about the prospect of the All Blacks losing; we worried about it before they played Argentina and last weekend before we played the Springboks. But in 1988 I never, ever, recall being worried.
Then we have 1996, post the 1995 South Africa World Cup, the bad taste still in some players' mouths.
So what made 1996 so great? I mean we lost the last game of the year. Yet after that game, the team arrived home to a prime minister's welcome and his label for them: "the Incomparables" (he must have spent ages on that one).
The thing that made them great was typified by the enduring image of Sean Fitzpatrick punching the ground at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria after the All Blacks had finally won a series in South Africa.
The thing that made it even more exciting is we did it with flair and beautiful, exhausting running rugby.
We ran those big, lumbering, Boks and their 10-man rugby game, off their feet. For the rugby purest this was a great moment. Before the World Cup monkey was even born, this older primate had constantly dogged us. The seemingly impossible mission to win a series in South Africa.
Now, to be fair, today's side has also ripped a monkey off our back - they did it last year at Eden Park by one glorious point.
However, in 1996 we killed that monkey completely, did we do that in 2011? Do we still have a smaller World Cup Monkey on our back? You know the one that starts with the line "only on home soil"?
Does the class of 2011/12 deserve to sit beside these two teams and be seen as great? The answer is yes. Does it however deserve the title of the "best ever"? Not yet.
I doubt we will have a sense of confidence like we did in 1988 again, and I doubt we will see the extreme contrast of flair versus dogma like we saw in 1996.
But in 2012 we still may see something just as good, or even greater, a clean sweep season (the first for any nation in the professional era), and a new world record for consecutive test wins.
If we do finish this season unbeaten with our 20th straight test win, even I, with my strong dislike of the "best ever" tag, would be prepared to concede.
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