Not so fast South Africa, don't crown yourselves
There’s some suggestion that if the Springboks were to successfully defend the Rugby World Cup, in addition to winning a British and Irish Lions series in 2021, it would comprise the greatest rugby dynasty of all time.
Though unquestionably worthy of respect, statistically the argument is flawed. There is even a case to be made that it isn’t even the strongest period in South African rugby history.
Since 2019 the Springboks have won 32 of 45 internationals but have yet to beat Ireland or France, consistently ranked the best teams in the world in that period.
In football parlance, the Springboks are a ‘Cup’ team, not a ‘league’ team. They can reach lofty campaign peaks but are not consistently brilliant over a long span of time.
Unquestionably the most dominant rugby dynasty in history is the All Blacks run from a 33-6 win against Australia on September 19, 2009, to a 29-40 loss to Ireland in Chicago on November 9, 2016. In that span, the All Blacks won the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cups and 88 of 97 Test matches.
Their dominance was so ridiculous that they set records for the three longest winning streaks of all time. In 2015-16 they won a record 18 Test in a row after winning 17 in a row between 2013 and 2014 and 16 on the trot from 2011 and 2012. At home, the All Blacks were 45-0.
A Lions tour only happens every 12 years. Against England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, the countries that make up the Lions, the All Blacks were 26-1 from 2009 to 2016. Against South Africa, their record was 13-2.
Tony Woodcock, Owen Franks, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Brodie Retallick, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Aaron Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Conard Smith, Julian Savea and Ben Smith are all players worthy of consideration for inclusion in the World Rugby Hall of Fame.
The only record the 2009-2016 All Blacks didn’t achieve was the record for the longest unbeaten run among Tier 1 Nations. After winning 16 in a row from 2011 to 2012 the All Blacks were held to an 18-18 draw by Australia in Brisbane. They won six consecutive Tests thereafter, before defeat to England at Twickenham.
From the start of the 1987 Rugby World Cup until 1990 the All Blacks went 23 Tests without defeat. The only blot on their copybook was a 19-19 draw against Australia at Ballymore, Brisbane in 1988 (the 11th Test in their run). The All Blacks didn’t defend the World Cup in 1991.
Prior to the World Cup, it was hard to rival the sustained success of the All Blacks from 1962 to 1969. They only lost two out of 35 Test matches and were unblemished from the fourth Test against the Springboks in 1965 until 1969 winning 17 in a row.
When midweek games counted for something and were tough to win the All Blacks had 59 wins, two defeats and a draw in this period.
From the 1963-64 tour John Graham, Brian Lochore, Wilson Whineray, and Colin Meads were later knighted for their immense service to rugby and the community. Nobody would have complained if Ken Gray, Ian Kirkpatrick, and Waka Nathan received the same accolade.
The 1997 and 1998 Springboks matched the All Blacks streak of 17 consecutive victories, but at the 1999 World Cup were third.
The 1995 World Cup triumph was transformative, but the glorious Kitch Christie era was short-lived ending with 14 successive wins.
Pre-World Cup there are two periods of South African rugby that merit consideration as a ‘dynasty.’
The 1937 Springboks won 27 out of 29 matches on their New Zealand and Australian tour. They remain the only South African side to win a Test series in New Zealand winning the deciding Test at Eden Park 17-3, which was five tries and a conversion to nil.
Responses to their brilliance were unequivocal. WR King wrote in the Standard that “the South African forwards were simply magnificent, and the backs played with machine-line accuracy in every phase of the game.”
New Zealand Truth recorded that “on the day they would have beaten any other team in the world,” while Arthur Carman said that they won “not with mere power, but by their superior brainpower.”
To legendary first-five Bert Cooke, they were “no doubt about it, a great team.”
In 1938 the Springboks carried on the momentum when they beat the British and Irish Lions in a three-match series only dropping the last rubber after winning the first two Tests resoundingly by a combined margin of 45-15. Dannie Craven, Boy Louw, and Philip Nel were just some of the legends of this era.
The Springboks of 1949 to 1954 were arguably more formidable. They only lost a solitary Test in half a dozen years and swept the All Blacks 4-0 in 1949. Goal-kicking prop Okey Geffin famously scored 32 of the 47 points in the series. The 1951-52 tour of the UK and France was completed with a 30-1 record and a Grand Slam. The 44-0 thrashing of Scotland was rated by doyen commentator Bill McLaren as one of the greatest performances he ever witnessed.
P.S. Tier II nation Lithuania won 18 Test matches in a row between 2006 and 2010. Lithuania’s record was passed by Cyprus who won 24 Test matches in a row between 2008 and 2014, eventually stopped by Latvia. England holds the world record for the most consecutive wins in international rugby (male or female) with the Red Roses women achieving 30 consecutive wins between 2019 and 2022. They failed, however, to win the 2021 Rugby World Cup Final played on November 12, 2022, against the Black Ferns. From 2002 to 2009 the Black Ferns won 24 consecutive Tests by more than a converted try. That includes the 2002 and 2006 World Cup titles.
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