The Roar
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The All Blacks are so good they made a greatest teams list twice

The All Blacks are ready and waiting. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
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29th June, 2017
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Long suffering Australian rugby fans know all about how great the All Blacks are and now even Americans are starting to wake up to the greatest statistical team in history.

That’s according to American journalist Sam Walker, who put in more than a decade of research for his book titled The Captain Class. In it he came up with a list of 16 of the greatest teams and the All Blacks feature heavily.

In his analysis of these superstar sides Walker realised leadership was the common denominator.

“I found that the winning streaks of these teams corresponded perfectly to the careers of their captains,” Walker told me.

New Zealand’s obsession with rugby, like Brazil’s obsession with football has shaped how the nation views the sport.

“It creates people like Richie McCaw and Buck Shelford who tend to get put into leadership roles whereas they may not have in other countries.”

“Some Americans still believe the Yankees are the greatest team in history and I tell them ‘No! Look at this rugby team, they’ve won 80 per cent of games since 1888 I mean, c’mon!”

With the All Blacks on the verge of another series victory – this time against the might of the British and Irish Lions, it’s worth reflecting on just how good the All Blacks are compared to other sports teams.

“The fact that they’ve been so good for so long is really something that I think more people should look at.”

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“Some of it is a passion for the sport which runs deep. I also think there’s something about New Zealand and the sports culture and the social political culture.”

The hardest part in working out the best sports teams is the parochialism involved. Walker admitted it was tough to initially look outside one’s own backyard. Americans are exposed to baseball and will naturally consider the Yankees as one of the all time franchises compared to the United Kingdown which is all about Manchester United and Liverpool.

Club and domestic teams versus international sides also makes it tough to compare.

All Blacks' captain Richie McCaw and coach, Steve Hansen

The brains trust (Photo: Tim Anger)

Walker had to go beyond loyalty and upbringing and look at the significance of each sport. He made some controversial omissions along the way including the St George rugby league team which won 11-straight premierships from 1956 to 1966.

“They didn’t play internationally. The only data point I had was a 1962 match against a touring Lions team and it was a drubbing. I mean they just got killed.”

The other issue was working out what actually constituted a team sport. Walker decided to exclude sports like golf which has the Ryder Cup and focus on those past-times which have a clear offence and defence.

It left him with 24 team sports and he whittled his list down from more than 200 teams to finish with 16.

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Along the way he realised that the top teams all had amazing leaders.

The great Barcelona football team had Carles Puyol as captain. He was by no means the greatest player but it was his leadership which managed the egos of the side.

“He was all effort and hunger. He never wanted to be in the spotlight. He did nothing but serve the team,” Walker said.

But it was the consistency of the All Blacks through generations which made them impossible to ignore.

“I looked at 1986 to 1990 All Blacks and that’s when I discovered Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford. I’d just never seen anything like that.”

“There was a famous game where he lost three teeth and was knocked out cold. He was struck in the scrotum and continued to play on.”

Shelford’s inspirational performances ensured that his All Blacks side made the Top 16 list.

The other New Zealand side to capture Walker’s eye was the 2011-2015 side under the leadership of Richie McCaw.

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Winning two World Cups in a row was the perfect way to end McCaw’s career. In his 148 caps for the side he’d only experienced defeat 15 times. He kept the All Blacks imposing legacy alive and it shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.

What do you think of these selections Roarers? Who makes your list?

The 16 greatest teams in sports history

Team Captain
The Collingwood Magpies, Australian rules football (1927-30) Syd Coventry
The New York Yankees, Major League Baseball (1949-53) Yogi Berra*
Hungary, Men’s Football Team (1950-55) Ferenc Puskás
Montreal Canadiens, National Hockey League; (1955-60) Maurice Richard
Boston Celtics, National Basketball Association (1956-69) Bill Russell
Brazil, Men’s Football Team(1958-62) Hilderaldo Bellini
Pittsburgh Steelers, National Football League (1974-80) Jack Lambert
Soviet Union, Men’s ice hockey (1980-84) Valeri Vasiliev
New Zealand All Blacks, rugby union (1986-90) Wayne “Buck” Shelford
Cuba, Women’s volleyball (1991-2000) Mireya Luis
Australia, Women’s field hockey (1993-2000) Rechelle Hawkes
U.S. Women’s Football Team(1996-99) Carla Overbeck
San Antonio Spurs, NBA (1997-16) Tim Duncan
Barcelona, football (2008-13) Carles Puyol
France, Men’s handball (2008-15) Jérôme Fernandez
New Zealand All Blacks, rugby union (2011-15) Richie McCaw

*The Yankees didn’t name an official captain during Berra’s career