The All Blacks have only lost consecutively to an opponent ten times in history.
The rivals who have accomplished this rare feat are South Africa (six times), Australia (three), and France (once, in 1994). Only the Springboks and Wallabies have gone three or more straight wins over the Kiwis (the Boks hold the record, at four straight).
If we add the qualification that at least one of the consecutive wins must have been in New Zealand, the list is just five.
In 1929, as Wall Street crashed, and having lost many players to League, Australia (in the guise of the Waratahs) hosted and beat the All Blacks three times in a row, before crowds of well over 35,000. Just the luck of the Aussies; the Bledisloe Cup began after that, not before.
In 1937, the ‘invincible’ Boks won back-to-back in Christchurch and Auckland, on a tour of both Australia and New Zealand which saw the visitors only drop two matches out of twenty-nine. Boy Louw and Danie Craven were the leaders of the victorious squad.
In 1949, an ill-fated tour of South Africa without key Maori players (the All Blacks played simultaneous tests against the Boks and Wallabies, losing both) provided the Boks a 4-0 sweep of the Test series.
A marathon tour of Rhodesia and South Africa in 1970 (this time with Maori players) did not end well for the All Blacks: consecutive losses at Newlands and Ellis Park to lose the series 1-3.
In 1992, the Wallabies won the Bledisloe with back-to-back wins in Sydney and Brisbane. It was full on drama, thrilling rugby, the aggregate score tied, and haka controversies.
The French pulled off the unthinkable in 1994, winning two on the trot in New Zealand, scoring the ‘Try from the End of the World’ at Eden Park, using what seemed like two dozen passes, all of them 50-50.
1998 was an annus horribilis for the All Blacks, even after destroying England and with legends like Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen, Michael Jones, Josh Kronfeld, Andrew Mehrtens, and Carlos Spencer, as they lost all their Tri-Nations matches (the Joost-led Boks went unbeaten) and went ahead and lost the final Bledisloe to the superb crew of John Eales, Toutai Kefu, George Gregan, Stephen Larkham, Joe Roff and the boys.
Then there was 2009; the last time a team beat the All Blacks consecutively, and it was the old enemy, the Boks doing it thrice on the trot. Fourie du Preez had a knack of knocking off the All Blacks, but he was assisted by phenomenal once-in-a-generation players and rules which lent themselves to his maddeningly accurate box kicks.
The ominous thing about the All Blacks is how vigorously and intelligently their leaders, coaches, and players respond to these setbacks.
Often, breaks of twelve, sixteen, or even twenty-one years followed consecutive setbacks. Mot being defeated by a rival immediately again is crucial to the All Black mystique. Here we are, again, with a nine-year break.
The much-vaunted Irish could not back up their Chicago win at home in Dublin. Michael Cheika’s teams have stumbled on the return fixtures, too.
This week, the wee little Boklings try their luck. Their last two fixtures against the world champions have been nail-biters; losing at Newlands in 2017 courtesy of a brain-fade by Damian de Allende, and winning by the fingertip in Wellington.
On paper, it looks like a rout. Reiko Ioane scores a try every test he plays, and he’s marked by a man 27 kilograms lighter and 17 centimetres shorter! Waisake Naholo surely can run over the quick, but slender Aphiwe Dyantyi, and the Sonny Bill Williams-Jack Goodhue midfield is monstrous.
The world’s best two scrumhalves can tag team poor little Faf de Klerk, who’s played every minute of the championship so far, and they’re passing to the world’s best player.
In the forwards, the All Blacks have more caps than the entire Bok team, with three players making a decent argument to be included in the greatest All Blacks in history: Kieran Read (up against frequent flier and tackle-misser Francois Louw), Sam Whitelock (who can read Malcolm Marx’s mind), and that silent soldier Owen Franks.
There’s no relief from the bench, really. I think even the stoutest Lion fan would admit Richie Mo’unga looked a tad bit better than Elton Jantjies this season, and wise guy Ryan Crotty has forgotten more rugby situations than Damian Willemse has yet seen.
The All Blacks view Loftus Versfeld as a happy hunting ground, and the statistics back them up. It will be a fast track, with perfect skies, and the old wisdom of tiring out big Bok forwards will be repeated. But is it true?
Perhaps the only edges going in for the Boks are speed, fitness (yes, it’s true), youth, and a bit of the feeling of luck. Rassie Erasmus has formed a comeback-ready team, able to come back from horrendous deficits early in tests, fantastically physical (lapping the field in ‘dominant tackles’), and apparently unafraid to score tries quickly.
This Bok team is chasing history (to be only the eleventh team to nick two in a row off of the All Blacks), setting down a marker for the opener in Yokohama next year, and wholly, completely, categorically the underdog, at home.