The Almighty All Blacks
There aren’t many sports teams in the world that can hold a candle to the New Zealand Rugby Team. They have been the benchmark for international rugby for the past century and have every reason to be arguably the best sports team ever.
Let us go back to when New Zealand was no more than a land circumnavigated by the early sailors. The first people that are said to have occupied the Land of the Long White Cloud are the early Polynesian settlers way back in 1250 or 1300. From their settlements, the Maori culture had the seeds to be a world recognized brand, which we will explore later.
The Europeans sighted New Zealand in 1642 and the British signed a number of treaties with the native inhabitants in 1840. While the British were there they established educational institutes that naturally formed sporting teams and in 1870, the first recorded rugby match took place between Nelson College and Nelson Football Club. From then on the sport spread quickly and in 1884 the first representative team was selected to play as a New Zealand team that toured Australia. The iconic black jersey was selected as the official playing strip in 1893 and another tour was arranged against their Australian counterparts.
The rest is history as the New Zealand team began to dominate their opposition, but the name of All Blacks wasn’t adopted until 1905/06 on a tour of the United Kingdom. The name has been given many origins but considering that the team wore black, it was an easy connection to come up with the name of “All Blacks”.
Over the past 100 years, the team has been dubbed The Originals and The Invincibles as they began establishing impressive records. Since 1903 the team has had an impressive 78% wining record. In the last 20 years that percentage has risen to 84%. In the last year, they lost one match and drawn one from 14 matches played. I cannot find another team that has such an impressive winning percentage as the All Blacks.
In 2013 they went undefeated over 14 matches, which brought out a number of monikers but no one can argue that the All Blacks are the rulers of the rugby world.
Now that the history and stats have been covered, people ask why. Why does a nation with little more than 4 million people have such a dominant rugby team? There isn’t a clear answer to this, but one can surmise that the young kids don’t have much to do except play in the open fields and kick the ball around. Football or soccer is a main sport but rugby seems to have a legendary status in New Zealand, especially with the way players conduct themselves and supporters hold the great players in high esteem.
In recent history, there have been legends that have worn the black jersey, such as Jonah Lomu, Josh Kronfeld, Sean Fitzpatrick, Tana Umaga, Christian Cullen, Dan Carter and the king of kings, Richie McCaw. These men, and many others have left their names etched in rugby history. I speak of Richie McCaw as the king of kings as he has records that may never be broken. He is the current captain of the All Blacks but will most likely retire at the end of 2015, which is the popular belief. He first played for the New Zealand team as a 20-year old in 2001 against Ireland. He was elected as man of the match for his performance. He hasn’t looked back since then.
Richie McCaw has collected 137 caps for New Zealand over the past 14 years. Just have a think about that. 14 years as a top flight professional rugby player is way beyond normal. He has captained the All Blacks 100 times, which is a record that no other player comes close to matching. He has also been involved in 100 victories for the All Blacks and boasts a winning record of 89% as a member of the All Blacks. Let all those figures digest for a minute. This man is epic, and that is an understatement. He has suffered some injuries in his career and due to his elite status has been able to negotiate extended time off to recover and free himself from the hard rigors of rugby, but he has remained a stalwart for the All Blacks.
Besides the All Blacks having a number of records, they are known for something unique in the rugby world. The Haka. A world recognized brand. The Haka, simply put, is a Maori war dance performed before battle which the All Blacks have adopted to honour the Maori roots establish long ago by the Polynesian settlers. The All Blacks traditionally perform a Haka called Ka Mate, but in the last decade they have constructed their own version, unique to the rugby team called Kapa O Pango. They tend to perform the later in matches that they know will be a massive fight, but interchange the two often.
People have questioned the Haka, but every time a person doubts it, hundred more support it. It is a respected tradition around the world and is anticipated before every match. It is true that Samoa, Fiji and Tonga have their own versions of a Haka, but nothing compares to the All Blacks standing on the field performing it.
The All Blacks compete in the Southern Hemisphere’s international rugby competition called the Rugby Championship which is a double round robin contest between New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina. This competition is held annually but is shortened during World Cup years. In addition to this competition, the New Zealand team hosts touring Northern Hemisphere teams and in turn tours the North. In total, they play an average of 14 matches a year.
They are current holders of the Rugby World Cup, the Rugby Championship trophy and the Bledisloe Cup and many others. The Bledisloe is a cross-Tasman competition between Australia and New Zealand that stretches back to 1932. New Zealand have retained the cup for the past 12 years.
As always, New Zealand are favourites to win any competition that they enter and the 2015 Rugby World Cup isn’t any different, so keep an eye out for these men as they prepare to continue their dominant form and look to be the first team to go back-to-back World Cup Champions.