New Zealand's love affair with rugby

New Zealand's love affair with rugby
New Zealand All Blacks captain Richie McCaw holds the Webb Ellis cup as he stands with his players after the 2011 Rugby World Cup final match.

Interesting to hear 81-test veteran Justin Marshall telling The Straits Times that New Zealand's current all-conquering All Blacks rugby team would not cement their place as the best ever until they win next year's World Cup in England.

I'd go along with that. The All Blacks have won the cup just twice, in 1987 and 2011, both times in front of partisan New Zealand crowds. They have never won the Webb Ellis Trophy away from home. It's not something the winningest team in world sport takes lightly.

Since their first game against New South Wales in 1884, they have won 84 per cent of their games and 74 per cent of Test matches against international competition.

Having lost only one of their last 35 tests is remarkable in itself.

Last year, the All Blacks became the first team to win all their 14 matches in a calendar year - including 10 against the other five top-ranked international sides.

Sadly, it wasn't enough to capture this year's Laureus Academy's World Team of the Year Award. That honour went to football team Bayern Munich for winning the Bundesliga, Champions League and German Cup - hardly a measure of global domination.

And just to put things into monetary perspective, Bayern Munich's 24 players boast salaries of between US$3 million (S$3.77 million) and $14.2 million a year. The All Blacks average out at $300,000, with the top handful of players making $515,000 each.

Since rugby went professional in 1996, the All Blacks have won 121 of their 149 games, including nine Tri-Nations titles against South Africa, Australia and, more latterly, Argentina, and qualifying for all seven World Cup playoffs.

They have also been on seven undefeated tours to Europe, including two Grand Slam sweeps of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales in successive weeks, a test-series whitewash against the British & Irish Lions and 30 victories in a row on home soil.

Only Australia, South Africa, France, England and Wales have ever beaten the All Blacks, the latter not having done that since that historic occasion in 1954.

South Africa provides the sternest test with a 40 per cent win record, but much of that was earned in earlier days.

To the great satisfaction of most Kiwis, Australia have won only 39 out of 132 tests against the All Blacks. That more than makes up for the countless times we have been done and dusted by their champion cricket and rugby league teams.

With a population significantly smaller than Singapore, New Zealand counts a senior male player pool of 132,000, compared with England (1.4 million), South Africa (633,000), France (347,000) and Australia (296,000).

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