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If there were any doubts about the best team in international rugby heading into the start of the 2013, they’ve all been dispelled by the end of the calendar year.
The New Zealand All Blacks’ most recent victory against Ireland – in the most dramatic of circumstances – saw them etch up their 14th win of 2013 and in doing so, keep their unbeaten record for the year intact.
It’s the first time any team has won all 14 games in a calendar year since the professional era of international rugby was introduced, and for an All Blacks team simply laden with talent, that’s an honor that befits them perfectly.
Regardless of what circumstance they might have found themselves in, they always managed to pull through with sheer brilliance in attack and tenacity in defence, and they thoroughly deserve the accolades that have fallen their way this year.
Let’s look back on the memorable 14-game streak and relive some of the greatest moments and thrilling matches in the All Blacks’ undefeated season.
2013 New Zealand All Blacks’ schedule
June 8: beat France 23-13 at Eden Park, Auckland.
June 15: beat France 30-0 at Christchurch Stadium, Christchurch.
June 22: beat France 24-9 at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth.
August 17: beat Australia 47-29 at ANZ Stadium, Sydney.
August 24: beat Australia 27-16 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington.
September 7: beat Argentina 28-13 at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton.
September 14: beat South Africa 29-15 at Eden Park, Auckland.
September 28: beat Argentina 33-15 at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, Buenos Aires.
October 5: beat South Africa 38-27 at Ellis Park, Johannesburg.
October 19: beat Australia 41-33 at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.
November 2: beat Japan 54-6 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo.
November 9: beat France 26-19 at Stade de France, Paris.
November 16: beat England 30-22 at Twickenham, London.
November 24: beat Ireland 24-22 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Highest scoring match: August 17 versus Australia
New Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie was given a baptism by fire as the visitors showed off their attacking might in Sydney.
The 47 points conceded were the third most ever allowed in a Bledisloe match and showed the attacking might of the away team, who were simply lethal every time they spread the ball wide.
Ben Smith bagged himself a hat-trick to blow the score out for the visitors, while a late consolation try to James O’Connor (off a lovely ball from Quade Cooper) kept the scoreline respectable and pushed the points total even higher for the home side.
Lowest scoring match: June 19 versus France
It was the first time France had been kept scoreless against the All Blacks in over 50 matches between the two nations, but given the defensive resilience of the home team, it was hardly a surprising result.
Slippery conditions made it difficult to play running rugby for both teams, and that’s where New Zealand stepped up – dominating in the kicking game and in the forwards – to simply overpower their opponents with a barrage of field position and time in possession.
Biggest margin of victory: November 2 versus Japan
Just in case it wasn’t bad enough facing an All Blacks’ team fresh off a high-scoring win against Australia, Japan were forced to deal with the threats of both Dan Carter and Richie McCaw coming back into the line-up for New Zealand.
The result was as expected: the All Blacks simply dominated every time they shifted the ball out to their wide men and, given the number of sloppy passes and tries that went begging, the 48-point victory could very easily have been well over 50 or 60 in the end.
Best team performance: October 5 versus South Africa
No doubt one of the greatest Test matches of all time.
The lead changed eight times throughout this back-and-forth contest as the All Blacks scored several late tries to overcome an Ellis Park hoodoo – defending their Rugby Championship title and keeping their unbeaten season alive.
McCaw said after the match, “I haven’t seen the Springboks play a game like that for a long time”, while Jean de Villiers commented what “was dished up was a great advertisement for rugby”.
Best individual performance: October 19 versus Australia
Aaron Cruden was a star all year for the All Blacks but never more so than against Australia.
The five-eighth scored a try, landed three conversions and two penalties to finish with a personal points tally of 23 points en route to victory – a figure which could have been even more, with two missed penalties and a missed conversion to his name as well.
Cruden was the All Blacks’ top points scorer this year, with 107.
Most memorable victory: November 24 versus Ireland
Ireland are by no means the best team they’ve played in the incredible run, and this victory isn’t even the most important or iconic of them all.
Yet to come from behind (trailing 15-0 at one point), away from home, to finish off the season in perfect fashion makes this one the most memorable victory of them all.
The fact it took a try after the siren to replacement Ryan Crotty and then a conversion from the sideline (taken twice!) by Cruden to win the match simply added even more allure to this match.