The high octane and nail biting final of the Rugby World Cup took centre stage in London, last Saturday night (31 October 2015). The New Zealand All Blacks were simply superb and edged another victory over their long-time rivals, the brave Wallabies from Australia. The All Blacks, the juggernaut of international rugby, stormed home to collect their second consecutive World Cup title, making history in the process. The United Kingdom played hosts for a successful tournament over the past six weeks, and what a treat it really has been with an unprecedented celebration of rugby sweeping the globe in emphatic fashion. The Rugby World Cup lived up to all the hype and exceeded all expectations. Despite the English and the Welsh teams being knocked out of the tournament early, their Rugby Boards need to be congratulated for hosting what has been the best Rugby World Cup in the history of the game.
The world witnessed the gap between top tier nations and the 'minnows' nations draw close significantly. This was exemplified by the Japanese Brave Blossoms scoring a winning try on full-time to triumph over the mighty Springboks from South Africa. For those who don’t know rugby that well, this is roughly akin to Djibouti beating Brazil in the Football World Cup. We saw Argentina forge their position as a nation who holds a seat at the table with the other top tier rugby nations. Australia also proved themselves as serious contenders for the world number one spot, and deserved all the praise as they wound back clock and returned to the golden years.
The All Blacks need a standing ovation. They are relentlessly feared by all their opponents, display pure ‘Roger Federer’ class, and are simply masters of the game played in heaven. My assertion is that this current All Blacks outfit is the best sporting team to ever grace the face of the earth. As an Australian it was difficult to experience a defeat in the 2015 World Cup final. However, as a rugby enthusiast, this solemn feeling was mitigated by the brilliance of this All Blacks team, and as a sports fanatic, the bitter taste left in my mouth was alleviated by the realisation that the All Blacks are the greatest sporting team of all time. Perhaps my objective investigations below will provide more credence to this bold declaration.
The All Blacks are known on the international stage for their intimidating pre match ritual, a war cry, dance and challenge known as the Haka. The All Blacks are not defined by the theatrics of the Haka but rather by the fact that they are the greatest rugby team of all time, and in recent times have proven their authority by winning two consecutive World Cups. Since their World Cup triumph in 2011 and their victory last Saturday night to secure the coveted William Webb Ellis cup, they boast a winning record of 51 victories out of 54 test matches. That is a winning percentage of 94.44% over an arguably short time frame of four years. In addition to the two consecutive World Cups, the All Blacks have secured four Bledisloe Cups and three Rugby Championship titles.
From their 112-year history, they have won 414 out of their 537 test matches thereby securing themselves an overall winning percentage of 77.09%. This is unparalleled dominance that no other professional sport has ever experienced. No other sporting team in history has ever achieved the monopoly of supremacy like the current All Blacks team has commanded.
If I am going to make such a grand and sweeping statement, I will need compelling evidence to support such a claim. Let’s take a look at some of the most successful sporting teams from history and from all corners of the earth to compare them to the current All Blacks.
It comes as no surprise that international soccer is dominated by the Brazil National Soccer team, who have the highest winning percentage of any other national team at 63%. To go with this healthy winning percentage they have claimed an unprecedented five World Cup Championships.
But then the 1998-1999 Manchester United team, also known as the Red Devils, put themselves in contention to be crowned the greatest sporting team ever to exist in the history of sport. Despite being favoured, even at the start of that season, to win the Premiership, few experts predicted the kind of dominance that Manchester United ultimately delivered - it was hard to find many flaws at Old Trafford. United mustered up in a season of 38 games, 22 wins, 13 draws and 3 losses to secure their hands on the English Premier League trophy.
On top of that, they had to play eight games in the FA Cup to win it, against teams who featured in the best league in the world. Finally, there was the Champions League, a gruelling 13-game slog against the best teams Europe had to offer. That's an astounding 59 games over the course of a season and the results certainly flowed Manchester United’s way–they reached unprecedented territory, picking up the FA Cup, Premiership title and Champions League title all in the one season.
The ’98-’99 season puts Manchester United as the king of the mountain, but it doesn’t do quite enough to keep them singing their tunes from the peak. The All Blacks’ consistent domination and supremacy of international rugby, year after year, results in them having the wool over the Red Devil’s and snatching the crown by inches for the greatest sporting team of all time.
Australia has bragging rights as the most successful cricketing team of all time. At the games purest form, Test Cricket, since its inauguration in 1877, the Australian team have played 780 test matches, with win-lose stats of 366-208 (and 204 draw). This calculates at a winning percentage of 46.92%. Looking through the history of test cricket the question and the moot point is, which team was greater – the Australian side of the 2000s or the mighty 80s-90s West Indies? Both teams at their heights produced legends of the game.
The Australian side of the 2000s was utterly dominant. Between October 1999 and November 2007, they played 93 Tests, and won a mind-boggling 72 of them. That is an overall winning record of 77.42%. However it must be noted, and significant consideration given, to the fact that one of the remarkable features of their domination was that they played out only 11 draws in 93 games.
The West Indies team of the 1980s and the early '90s, on the other hand reigned supreme, without losing a single Test series in 15 years. Their best period was between February 1981 and December 1989 – in 69 Tests in that span, they had a 40-7 win-loss record and that is an overall winning record of 85.10% with 22 out of those 69 matches either being drawn or abandoned. During their eight greatest years, they played 16 series, won 11 and drew five.
I am not going to ruffle the feathers of cricket academics, so I will reserve my decision as to which side is the greatest in the history of Test cricket – that is a melee that I am not qualified to participate in and beyond the scope of this article. I will conclude however, that the current All Blacks surpass both these teams as the greatest sporting team of all time. Simply, because the All Blacks’ winning percentage of 94.44% over four years is simply mind blowing and perhaps even more impressively they hold a 77.09% overall winning record over 112 years.
The Americans will chime in and put forward a compelling argument that teams spawned out of their own domestic leagues have produced greater teams than the All Blacks. Out of fairness to our American cousins, we should listen to their arguments in a diplomatic forum and consider each point carefully before coming to a final decision. However, I will preface this by reminding everyone, comparing US sports can be a little difficult. Sports like MLB and the NBA play significantly more games in a season than what the All Blacks and most other teams in professional sport would play.
Major League Baseball
Too anyone who follows MLB, it’s really no surprise that the New York Yankees are the team with the most World Series wins under their belt (27) and the best winning percentage in Major League Baseball history, with an overall winning percentage of a healthy 56.90%. The Yankees have fielded some of the best teams of all time and there is a persuasive argument that the 1927 ‘Murderers’ Row’ Yankees team were the most feared team in MLB history and perhaps the greatest sporting team of all time. With a win-loss record of 110-44 and a World Series topping off a captivating season, it is difficult to dispute this perception. The 1927 Yankees dominated that season with an overall winning percentage of 71.42%. However, no disrespect to the greats that filled up the line-up, nor to the powerhouses that were Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth – these names hold their place in sporting royalty. But the All Blacks also lay claim that members of their incumbent team – Richie Macaw and Dan Carter are a couple of names that come to mind – equally hold their place in sporting royalty. It is impossible to look past the All Blacks’ 94% winning record. This consistent domination in itself is enough to pip the 1927 Yankees on the line as the greater sporting team of all time.
The San Antonio Spurs sit at the top of the basketball pile with the highest overall winning percentage in the NBA. The vast majority of the Spurs' success in the NBA has come since the 1989-1990 season. San Antonio win-loss record was 1,389-672 in that span, with an enormous winning percentage of 67.39%.
If we delve into the NBA a little deeper, the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls team stake their claim as the greatest sporting team of all time. In that season, the great Michael Jordan reestablished his pre-eminence and took out the league’s MVP. The Bull’s completed an unprecedented winning record of 72 - 10 and a massive winning percentage of 87.80%. They were also successful in taking the NBA title back to the Windy City. The ’95-’96 Bulls have a well-earned seat at the sporting round table but again the current All Blacks with their impressive 94% winning record over the past four years and two World Cup victories trump the storied Chicago ’95-’96 Bulls as the greatest sporting of all time.
The greatest NFL team of all time is a difficult task to quantify with unpredictable variables and controversy around every corner. The 1972 Miami Dolphins immediately spring into mind with a perfect 17-0 season. However, Dolphin critics would argue that 1972 came as a blessing to Miami as they were given an easy roster and road to the playoffs. Only two of the teams they played during the regular season ended up with a winning record, and their opponents had an aggregate win percentage below 40%. The Dolphins also took the crown back to Miami and the 1972 Dolphins are all custodians of a priceless SuperBowl ring. However, I will go out on a limb and say the 1972 Dolphins don’t qualify as the greatest team of all time in the NFL, but should qualify as the greatest professional sporting team of all time.
To find the NFL’s greatest team, and indeed if that team qualifies as the greatest team in the history of professional sport, we will need to probe a little deeper with forensic intent.
The 1985 Chicago Bears put their hand up as the greatest team in NFL history – they had it all and their defence put the opposition quarterbacks into submission. Were it not for Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins) playing the game of his life on that now infamous Monday Night, the Bears would have won them all. I am sure Bears fans will not be disappointed with a 15-1 season. In the postseason, the Bears shut out their first two opponents, then put a nasty ground and pound on the overwhelmed New England Patriots to win Super Bowl XX.
Astonishingly, the number one team on the list for all-time records are the Chicago Bears. The Bears hold the NFL record for most Hall of Famers, with 27 members, and they also hold the record for most retired jersey numbers, with 13. The Bears were established all the way back in 1919, and the franchise has won nine championships, with an overall winning record of 711-515-42, at a winning percentage of 56.07%. Due to the sporting success of the 1985 Bears and the historical franchise records, I conclude that the 1985 Chicago Bears are the greatest team NFL team of all time.
But I am sorry Chicago fans, I can’t crown the 1985 Chicago Bears as the greatest sporting team of all time as the Bears have only ever won one SuperBowl and their recent history has been disappointing, providing little for Bears fans to cheer about. The overall All Blacks winning percentage of 77% and their perennial dominance over the past four years allows the All Blacks to leap-frog the 1985 Chicago Bears as the greatest sporting team of all time.
The All Blacks have been awesome forever it seems. In last five years, they have been unstoppable and we are really left will little choice but to award the prize of the greatest sporting team of all time to the 2015 New Zealand All Blacks. To the nation that plays host to the long white cloud and the unofficial mecca of rugby union, congratulations! The iconic All Blacks give the small island nation of New Zealand tucked away in the Pacific Ocean a loud voice on the world stage. Rightly so, their’ achievements over history are simply superb.