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All Blacks may not be record breakers but in McCaw and Carter they have a pair of greats

So New Zealand fell at the final hurdle in their attempt to equal the record number of consecutive victories by a top tier International side, their 18-18 draw with Australia leaving them tantalisingly on 16.

So where does this leave this current All Black side compared with the other teams of the professional era to have come close to those heights?

South Africa’s run from 1997-98 is the 17 game record, while this All Black side stands alone on 16 consecutive wins, with their 09/10 and 05/06 compatriots on 15, while England’s 2002/3 side had 14 in a row. (South Africa also had 15 from 94-95 but it crossed the amateur era.)

Which side then is the best?

England of 2002/3 were a truly great side, with World Class players throughout the side in the shape of Johnson, Hill, Back, Dallaglio, Wilkinson, Greenwood and Robinson.

Many observers would say, including many members of the team, that the team in this period was in fact better than when they eventually went on to win the World Cup later in 2003.

They consistently won against the Southern Hemisphere sides, a rare feat for any Northern Hemisphere side, beating both New Zealand and Australia at home and away during the run.

New Zealand in 2005/6 were an awesome side too, just coming off the back of their 3-0 whitewashing of the Lions and the retirement of Tana Umaga, many expected them to struggle particularly after they lost their opening Tri Nations game to South Africa.

That defeat though was to be their last for fifteen games as Dan Carter went through arguably the purple patch of his career to date. With Richie McCaw at his peak, ably supported by Jerry Collins and Rodney So’oailo in theirs, with Mils Muliaina at full back surrounded by Howlett and Rocokoco on the wings, they were a formidable unit.

In 09/10 incarnation of the All Blacks were a more mature version of the side three years earlier. Carter and McCaw were still the icons of the team, but new talent had sprouted around them.

Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith had become the most feared centre pairing in the world, while the engine room of Brad Thorne and Ali Williams were beginning to rival Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha for No1 status.

The emergence of Kieran Read at number 8 added further class to the side as they began to build towards the 2011 World Cup.

The South African record holders of 1997/98 were a well drilled unit of immense talent, guided by the steadying hand of Nick Mallett.

The possessed some seriously talented players in the form of Joost Van Der Westhuizen, Gary Teichmann, Andre Venter and Henry Honiball, while the grunt of Os Du Randt and Ollie Le Roux was feared the world over.

They also had some players emerging who would go on to dominate the game in Percy Montgomery and Bobby Skinstad, all ably supported by the likes of Andrews, Snyman, Small and Dalton.

The only bolts on their record are that of their 17 victories, only four were against Tri Nations opposition, while their style of play can hardly be described as imaginative.

So were do this All Blacks side sit? They possess quality players in Woodcock, Whitelock, McCaw, Read, Carter Smith and Dagg, their results are outstanding, their record run halted only by a draw not a defeat.

There is a sense though that in isolation they are perhaps just a shade below the very best, however when looking at the All Blacks results from 2009 to the present, you realise that this has to be considered one of the best sides in history.

Not only have they had two sides on the list for record consecutive victories (15 in 09/10 and 16 with this crop), they have also only lost three Tests since September 2009 in a run which includes three Tri Nations/Rugby Championships and a World Cup.

Of course, this is all just speculation, how we judge the best changes from person to person, day to day. Victories are not necessarily even the best way to judge a side; sometimes a team just gets beaten on the day.

What we can say with some certainty though is that Richie McCaw and Dan Carter must rank highly in the stakes of all time great players. To have been key players in three different sides in this select group is quite a feat and they have 4 World Player of the Year titles and 10 Nominations between them.

It is worth remembering as well that this is only a list of sides with a high number of consecutive victories from the professional era, leaving out a huge number of simply outstanding sides.

For this writer though, it has simply been a privilege to watch these top sides and their world class players perform. 

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