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Grading the All Blacks' Grand Slams

opinion Chris Matthews

By's Randall Munro, Max Bania and Chris Mathews Writer

Published: 7:38AM Friday November 26, 2010 Source: ONE Sport

  • All Blacks huddle (Source: Photosport)
    All Blacks huddle - Source: Photosport

Henry's Finest Hour
By's Randall Munro

2005 Grand Slam: bt Wales 41-3, bt Ireland 45-7, bt England 23-19, bt Scotland 29-10

For many aficionados 2005 was the greatest chapter in All Blacks history. By the time the Grand Slam was done and dusted it concluded one of the most memorable years in New Zealand rugby history.

Henry swept past the Lions, collected the Tri Nations silverware and headed North to capture something not accomplished by the Men In Black since 1978 - a Grand Slam.

He took with him a squadron of men at the height of their powers (as they so often are two years out from a World Cup): Dan Carter in form yet to be repeated, Tana Umaga with a swansong more a fairytale, Richie McCaw ascending to power and Carl Hayman performing as if a million pound contract depended on it.

Elsewhere in the 35-strong squad there was depth barely comparable at any point in history. Byron Kelleher, Piri Weepu and Jimmy Cowan grappling for the halfback jersey. Joe Rokocoko and Sitivini Sivivatu matching the try-scoring exploits of Rico Gear and Doug Howlett. And, of course, Mils Muliaina and Leon MacDonald were interchangeable at fullback.

The fight for starting spots was so fierce that Henry had the luxury of fielding completely different starting XVs on the opening fortnight of the Grand Slam tour. Hat trick hero Gear was "dropped" following the Welsh romp.

The rotation provoked the ire of their European hosts - particularly the Irish - but when the All Blacks went into the Lansdowne Rd shed 25-0 up at halftime it wasn't just the Dublin air that had the Irish fans red in the face.

A week earlier in the closed-roof cauldron of Millennium Stadium the Six Nations champions were thumped by a team featuring debutants Neemia Tialata and Chris Masoe.

After the Welsh and Irish were despatched, Henry's Army marched towards Twickenham. It was to become the scene of one of Henry's most famous victories; which broke the back of any Home Unions' resistance.

Ahead by a nervy three points at halftime, the All Blacks found themselves on the receiving end of three yellow cards in the second stanza. At one stage they were battling with just six forwards but battle they did to earn an exasperating victory.

From there it was onto Scotland. More stars were rested and more of the squadron steeped up admirably. Nick Evans proved he was a worthy challenger to Dan Carter by taking his personal Grand Slam points tally to 32.

A 19 point victory at Murrayfield completed just the second Grand Slam sweep in All Blacks history.

The talent pool may have been at its deepest and the opposition's defences far from water tight but with an average winning scoreline of 35-10 Henry's Class of 2005 were Grand Slammers without peer.

2005 squad:

Backs - Mils Muliaina, Leon MacDonald, Sitiveni Sivivatu Rico Gear, Doug Howlett, Joe Rokocoko, Isaia Toeava, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Tana Umaga, Aaron Mauger, Daniel Carter, Luke McAlister, Byron Kelleher, Piri Weepu, Jimmy Cowan

Forwards - Carl Hayman, Greg Somerville, Neemia Tialata, Tony Woodcock, John Afoa, Anton Oliver, Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Jason Eaton, Ali Williams, Chris Jack, James Ryan, Rodney So'oialo, Mose Tuiali'i, Richie McCaw, Chris Masoe, Jerry Collins, Sione Lauaki, Angus Macdonald

The Redeemer is Redeemed
By's Max Bania

2008 Grand Slam: bt Scotland 32-6, bt Ireland 22-3, bt Wales 29-9, bt England 32-6

Of Graham Henry's seven seasons as All Black coach, he might well nominate 2008 as his most satisfying.

It began amidst the furore of his re-appointment following the All Blacks' disastrous World Cup exit, and ended with an accurate and clinical display against England that emphatically rubbed both his critics' and our colonial masters' noses in the dirt.

Sure, the all-conquering 2005 team may have played the more attractive rugby - but Henry had a better squad at his disposal that year. And the soon-to-be 2010 Grand Slam will be fondly remembered as the tour that shot one Sonny Bill Williams to superstardom.

But it's the staggering statistics that stand the 2008 Grand Slam above the one before it and the one soon to follow within the next 48 hours.

The All Blacks didn't concede a single try in four matches. Moreover, until a late England penalty at Twickenham, they did not concede so much as a single point in the second half of any Tests. It was a sustained display of discipline, determination and ruthless efficiency that was desperately missing during the previous year's doomed World Cup bid.

It was also the only slam in which the strength of their opponents grew from one match to the next. Once the brittle Scots were brushed aside, the tourists faced increasingly more stern challenges from Ireland, Wales and finally the proud English, who always defend their fortress at Twickenham to within an inch of their lives.

Not on this occasion. England huffed and puffed in the first half, but they never looked like blowing down the All Blacks' defensive brick wall. In the second half, the visitors delivered the classic counter-punch with Mils Muliaina finishing off a brace of superbly-constructed tries and Ma'a Nonu putting the icing on the cake.

The 2008 slam was satisfying on so many levels; not just because of the defensive steel shown. It was an amicable departure from the controversial rotation policy which blighted the previous campaign; it reaffirmed Dan Carter as the pre-eminent first five in world rugby and kept alive Graham Henry's staggering record of never having lost a Test on an end of year tour.

And in its proper context it will be remembered as the exclamation point to a fabulously successful season that not only placed the All Blacks back on top of the world rugby pile; but redeemed them in the eyes of a fickle rugby public.

2008 squad:

Backs - Daniel Carter, Stephen Donald, Ma'a Nonu, Mils Muliaina, Richard Kahui, Josevata Rokocoko, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Anthony Tuitavake, Piri Weepu, Jimmy Cowan, Andy Ellis, Hosea Gear, Cory Jane, Alby Mathewson, Conrad Smith, Isaia Toeava.

Forwards - Anthony Boric, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw, Brad Thorn, John Afoa, Jason Eaton, Hika Elliot, Ross Filipo, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Andrew Hore, Jamie Mackintosh, Keven Mealamu, Liam Messam, Kieran Read, Greg Somerville, Rodney So'oialo, Adam Thomson, Neemia Tialata, Scott Waldrom, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock.

From the Darkest Hour
By's Chris Matthews

2010 Grand Slam: bt England 28-18, bt Scotland 49-3, bt Ireland 38-18, Wales tbc

If the 2010 All Blacks do what the bookmakers say they should do and wipe Wales off the park on Sunday they have an opportunity to be recognised as the best New Zealand side of this decade.

The 2005 Grand Slam winning side, as good as they were, will forever be tarnished by their inability to turn their dominance into World Cup glory, while the 2008ers' merry march through the UK and Ireland was quickly forgotten six months later as the Springboks exposed the All Black machine by beating them three times in a row.

The last of those defeats, the heartbreaking 29-32 loss in Hamilton on September 12 2009, will forever be seen as a significant turning point in Graham Henry's tenure.

From that point on, the All Blacks' psyche changed. New law interpretations enabled Henry's men to ride a crescendo of 15 consecutive Tests wins with a scintillating brand of rugby that was only broken in Hong Kong by a last-gasp try to rising Wallabies' star James O'Connor.

That hiccup, though, could not take away from what was an outstanding 12 month stretch for the men in black that was built on the back of a battle hardened squad, which was rotated only sparingly.

Past lessons had been learnt. No longer would All Blacks XVs swap in and out on a weekly basis. In fact, the core of the 2010 Grand Slam team would remain the same for the entire tour with Mils Muliaina, Daniel Carter, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Owen Franks and Tony Woodcock named to start in every Test.

Veteran forwards Brad Thorn and Keven Mealamu may have well have joined them if injury and suspension didn't intervene but it didn't matter as emerging talents like Sam Whitelock and Hika Elliot stepped up to the occasion.

The midfield and wings was one area where the All Blacks' selectors had the luxury of mixing and matching but by the end of the tour former league star Sonny Bill Williams and blockbusting wingman Hosea Gear had upset the old guard by superseding Ma'a Nonu and Joe Rokocoko to take the 12 and 11 jerseys respectively.

Indeed it was the SBW-Gear act who set the Grand Slam wheels in motion as they combined for the first try of the Northern tour as the All Blacks eventually went on to beat England by 26-16, a result that was put into perspective a week later when the English thumped the Wallabies by 35-18.

The next week, the Sonny Bill show rode into Scotland as his big off-loading mitts led the All Blacks to a resounding 49-3 win over what was thought to be a mediocre Scottish side. A week later though the rugby world realised it may been the victors who were from another planet, as the Scots grounded out an upset 21-17 win over the world champion Springboks.

Leg three saw the All Blacks come up against a tenacious Irish side at a revamped Lansdowne Road. Despite conceding the first try, the All Blacks pounced either side of halftime to eventually run away with the Test by 38-18.

The All Blacks 2010 vintage are now poised to join the 05ers and 08ers as Grand Slam winners in Cardiff on Sunday. Whether their diminishing feat - because a Grand Slam certainly ain't what it use to be - is any greater that their predecessors can only be judged by one thing and by this time next year we will know if they have achieved it.

2010 squad:

Backs - Daniel Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Stephen Donald , Andy Ellis Hosea Gear , Cory Jane, Alby Mathewson, Mils Muliaina, Ma'a Nonu , Josevata (Joe) Rokocoko, Conrad Smith, Isaia Toeava, Sonny Bill Williams.

Forward -  John Afoa ,Anthony Boric, Daniel Braid, Tom Donnelly, Hikawera Elliot, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (captain), Keven Mealamu, Liam Messam, Kieran Read, Brad Thorn, Tony Woodcock, Sam Whitelock.

What Grand Slam team do you think was the best? Feel free to comment below!

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  • The Plodder said on 2010-11-27 @ 15:54 NZDT: Report abusive post

    You should change the title of the article to Grading Henry's Grand Slams. Why no love for the '78 team? Is it not relevant? I also find it insulting to the Welsh that you're including 2010 before the last match is even played. Sure, it probably will be a win for the ABs but couldn't you at least wait one day before posting the article?

  • Sportsnut said on 2010-11-26 @ 14:32 NZDT: Report abusive post

    Does anyone really care? Graham Mourie's 'Grand Slam' was a Grand slam i.e. climbing the mountain, against the odds etc. Today's Grand Shams are no longer relevant as they happen all the time... How about a Web Ellis Trophy? Now that would be a novelty...