kheru2006 (kheru2006) wrote,

A tribute to the masters of the rugby universe

ALL Blacks supporters have every reason to be cocky. Their team is the best known rugby team in the world today. Last year has been an exceptional year for them (in fact All Blacks' track record has always been exceptional) for they won all 14 test games they played.

Understandably their supporters hailed the publication of Ron Palenski's book, aptly titled The New Invincibles: How the 2013 All Blacks Created History. I wouldn't be surprised if England's coach, Stuart Lancaster meekly has to admit, All Blacks is "the best team in any sport in the world". They are truly the masters of the rugby universe.

You ask me about the highlights of my visit to New Zealand recently? Oh, yes, I went to most places of interest in the North Island. And I did hurl myself off the Auckland Sky Tower, all 192 metres down, at the maximum speed of 85 kilometre an hour, in a scary but exhilarating 11 seconds, wondering between those crucial seconds, when the safety cable would snap or if the gushing wind would smash my body to the tower (it didn't and I survived to tell the tale). But going to Eden Park, home of All Blacks was a visit to remember. Never mind if the place was closed temporarily.

I have been a fanatical All Blacks fan since my school days. You can't fault me, rugby is All Blacks and imagine what is rugby without the All Blacks. Not convinced? They won their 1,000th match on Aug 21, 2010, from 1,188 games, a staggering 84.2 per cent ratio. In short All Blacks have won more games (50 per cent more than the next best team) and lost fewer games than any other team.

And up till December 2011 they held their No. 1 ranking for 341 weeks. You'll find all these facts in Geoff Miller's All Blacks Supreme: The Ultimate Guide to the Ultimate Team. Don't worry too much about the title, All Blacks are usually about superlatives.

Some of you would not be able to understand rugby -- the tough, brutal, full-contact sport where players wear little or no protection at all. American football? Urgh, the players wear more body armour than members of a bomb disposal squad in Iraq.

Ok, don't remind me of the fact that despite their reputation, All Blacks have won only two Rugby World Cups, the first time in 1987 (the first World Cup) and in 2011. They lost five times in between. This year, in England, they hope to win again, so do we.

When they lost (spectacularly in South Africa in 1995, that inspired the movie Invictus), they got more headlines than the winners. The only time they did not reach the quarter-finals was in 2007 when they lost to France, and the French emerged champions. It was, to quote a sports writer, "a shockwave of gigantic proportion".

You think New Zealand is the only rugby country? Think again. There are 118 members of the International Rugby Board (IRB) or the Fifa of rugby and over five million registered players.

In a nation of 4.5 million people, there are 76,000 players aspiring to be All Blacks. No wonder rugby players are better known in the land of sheep than anyone else. Remember these facts too (from Miller's book) -- six teams in the 2011 Rugby World Cup were coached by New Zealanders and 38 players born in Kiwiland played for nine other teams.

These names are immortalised in the All Blacks' hall of fame: Dough Howlett, Christian Cullen, Joe Rokocoko, Jeff Wilson, Jonah Lomu, Tana Umaga, John Kirwan, Dan Carter. And, of course, Richie McCaw, the most successful skipper of All Blacks, winning more than 97 per cent of the games he was at the helm. He is also the first All Black to reach 100 tests.

But rugby is not just about fame and roses. Just read Lomu's autobiography Jonah: My Story. He was a seasoned, toughened, battle-worn All Black player, who at the peak of his career was the best winger on the field dashing at 100 metres in 10 seconds to astound his opponents. His book tells all -- his achievements, the glory, his frustrations and his current medical condition. But All Blacks being All Blacks, the show goes on even without such a talented player.

Imagine All Blacks without the Haka, the fearsome ancient dance ritual of the Maori performed by the players before every game. It has been part of the team's culture for the last 100 years. It is a symbol of their power and invincibility on the field. For many years it started with "Ka mate! Ka mate!" (It is death! It is death!) until 2005 when they changed the wordings. It starts with "Kapa O Pango kia whakawhenua au i ahau" to mean "let me become one with the land".

All Blacks are all that and more.

Johan Jaaffar | | twitter:@Johan_Jaaffar NST Opinion Columnist 11/04/2014
Tags: rugby, sports, tribute

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