How 1960s pioneers shaped record-seeking All Blacks
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: If you want to know why the All Blacks seek greatness you need to look at their history, according to coach Steve Hansen who pays homage to the pace-setting team of the 1965-1969 era.
With the All Blacks aiming for a world-record 18th consecutive victory when they tackle Australia in Auckland on Saturday, Hansen talked of the lessons learned from the side that set the benchmark of 17 wins nearly 50 years ago.
"They were probably the team that said to New Zealand rugby 'this is not a bad way to play'," Hansen said Thursday, singling out the free-running game of the 1967 All Blacks in particular.
"I always thought that 1967 side was the greatest team to play for the All Blacks and there have been some great ones."
It was a team stacked with legends of the game including Colin Meads, Brian Lochore, Syd Going, Earle Kirton and Fergie McCormick who established a sweeping, ball-in-hand brand on an unbeaten tour of Britain, France and Canada.
The record was equalled by South Africa in 1997-1998 and in 2013-2014 by the All Blacks, who now stand on the verge of an unprecedented 18th straight win.
Hansen found it "humbling" for his world champions to be mentioned in the same breath as the 1967 team.
"I don't think you can really compare different eras because the game's different but we've had some great history and some great success and that's one of the things that drives us, our history."
McCormick, a fearless fullback who played in 12 Tests of the 17-match winning streak, has no doubt the record will fall on Saturday.
"In modern day sport they are great," he said of the 2016 team, adding that records were made to be broken.
But when the All Blacks embarked on a four-year unbeaten run in 1965, with McCormick debuting in a 20-8 win over South Africa at Eden Park, setting records was not a consideration.
"To be honest, in the old days you didn't take count," he told AFP on Friday.
"We didn't count the wins, we went out to win every game. We didn't care who we played. Winning is grinning.
"We played a pretty open game and moved the ball around a lot but the modern boys move it a lot more and attack from all angles."
McCormick, a pioneer of the running fullback role, also noted the greater preparation afforded the modern teams.
In the golden era of the 1960s, the playing squad was complemented by one coach and one manager while the current All Blacks have an army of positional and fitness coaches, as well as medical staff and dieticians.
"They have back coaches, forward coaches, defence coaches and so on to get them to where they are and good luck to them. They are coached by top coaches and it shows," he said.
After the All Blacks won the World Cup last year, becoming the first team to successfully defend the title, Hansen drew a line in the sand and said it was time to start again.
Six of his most senior players, including Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, retired and he set about rebuilding the side under new leader Kieran Read.
But while their running game drew plaudits, former Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer singled out the All Blacks' kicking game and defence as being crucial.
"Their attacking kicks are meant to put you under pressure. They kick on you until you kick badly, then they punish you. They kick the ball to get it back," he said.
"In the past, we always scored tries against them because they employed the drift defence. The biggest step-up they've made is in their defence, where they've got the aggressive press. They're so great at it because of their fitness levels."
Hansen said one important element that has not changed is that the great All Blacks teams have all had forwards who can carry the ball constructively, pass and catch.
"One thing we understand in this group is that you don't own the jersey and you don't own the job you do in the team," he stressed.
"We do have a rich history and the responsibility of the people who are passing through at the moment is to make sure they leave it in better shape than they found it."