A hundred wins and thousands of frustrated fans
NZPA's Daniel Gilhooly
December 20, 2009
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and coach Graham Henry reflect on their painful exit from Rugby World Cup 2007 © Getty Images
One hundred Tests won in a decade of rugby, yet still the long faces from All Blacks supporters.
The past 10 years has seen one team dominate the international landscape more than any team in the game's history. An 82% win ratio since 2000 is a triumphant feat in a professional age which was supposed to bring all the top nations closer together. All of New Zealand's nearest rivals have winning percentages in the low 60s over the same period.
Two of them, however, have held aloft the Webb Ellis Cup. It's a matter of conjecture whether New Zealand, England or South Africa should feel most satisfied as the "noughties" draw to a close. The latter teams have endured their fair share of slumps but have claimed rugby's holy grail - England in 2003 and the Springboks four years later, beating England in the final.
Perhaps most galling for New Zealand is that they fell short in three World Cups through the 1990s as well. Their quarter-final and semi-final meltdowns are well entrenched as a subject of international mirth and are an elephant in the room for those who try to portray the All Blacks as the world's premier team and rugby brand.
The 2003 semi-final loss to Australia in Sydney stung. They were opponents the All Blacks under John Mitchell had thrashed earlier in the year but it took just one early intercept try by Stirling Mortlock to usher the big freeze. But for sheer shock value, look no further than the 2007 calamity in Cardiff.
Coach Graham Henry had moulded an experienced team of genuine quality. The middle years of the decade had been New Zealand's finest - they won 15 consecutive Tests at one point, notched a world record 30 straight wins at home, a prized, emphatic thrashing of the British & Irish Lions and a Grand Slam tour in 2005.
The team who ran onto Millennium Stadium would supply a large chunk of any All Blacks team of this decade. Against them was a French outfit who had been New Zealand's bunny in prior seasons.
Yet the tournament hosts tackled themselves to a standstill in the most remarkable of Tests, where flanker Thierry Dusautoir put in arguably the finest individual performance of the last 10 years. New Zealand's players, who had been controversially placed in cotton wool by Henry for much of the year, dominated the 80 minutes yet were unable to conjure a try or dropped goal in the frantic dying minutes, nor earn a penalty from controversial English ref Wayne Barnes.
The fallout supplied the story of the decade as Henry went against the prevailing public mood by reapplying for his job, winning it despite the excellent credentials of Crusaders supremo Robbie Deans - who then threw his lot in with the Wallabies. The records of Mitchell, who succeeded an uncertain Wayne Smith in late 2001, and Henry can't be denied.
Between them they snaffled six of the 10 Tri-Nations titles on offer while Henry's teams have dominated northern hemisphere opponents both home and away. Both coaches also stuck by a maxim that New Zealand play an attractive style.
There have been 526 All Blacks Test tries in a decade that began with a 102-0 thumping of Tonga at Albany and ended with the dashing 39-12 defeat of France at Marseille. But those expansive efforts seem more admired beyond these shores, with the typical New Zealand supporter prone to putting analysis on the 21 losses rather than 100 wins.
Many outstanding players have graced the black jersey since 2000. Tana Umaga proved a popular captain after replacing the successful but maligned skipper Reuben Thorne in 2004. Flanker Richie McCaw claimed the leadership in 2006 and, with another unassuming Cantabrian in fly-half Daniel Carter, two genuinely great All Blacks are still plying their trade. McCaw, Carter and Henry will shoulder a massive burden when New Zealand hosts the World Cup in 2011. Win there and they - and a nation - can actually enjoy the rest of the decade.
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