The 2016 All Blacks were a remarkably underrated side that went on to produce a record amount of points in a test season, but only now looking back in the rearview mirror tells just how powerful that team was.
Fresh off the victory of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, many overseas pundits were sure that the All Blacks were going to decline with the retirements of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Keven Mealamu, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
Some of the most experienced names in test rugby had departed Steve Hansen’s squad and nerves were high about what to expect from an All Blacks side in transition.
Former England centre Will Greenwood wrote: “There is change in New Zealand ranks, legends have moved on, and it is in times of change when sides can be vulnerable.”
Although for the touring Wales side, many Welsh journalists kept their expectations for the June tour in check after an ‘average’ Six Nations showing that left a lot to be desired.
Many didn’t expect Wales to win, but they would at least be competitive with New Zealand undergoing a sea change.
In hindsight, New Zealand had one of the more formidable line-ups in the world with a plethora of talent available for the series. Julian Savea, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith, Israel Dagg were some of the riches available to Steve Hansen out wide.
Israel Dagg, one of the heroes who emerged during the 2011 World Cup, had a season to remember after missing the campaign the year before. As a fullback and wing, Dagg made an emphatic comeback into the All Blacks fold as one of the top try scorers.
In the midfield, Ryan Crotty had patiently been waiting behind Nonu and Smith for years, and was joined by two more incredible athletes in Malakai Fekitoa and Seta Tamanivalu in the Wales series. Blues centre George Moala would also debut in the series while current midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown would debut later that year against the Wallabies.
A young core of Hurricanes players couldn’t make the starting side to begin the year, with TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett and debutant Ardie Savea forming part of an outstanding bench behind Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden and Sam Cane.
The back row also was not short of world-class talent, with Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino still available from the starting World Cup-winning side and current captain Cane filling in the vacant 7 jersey left by McCaw. Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick formed the second row.
Across the park, the All Blacks were able to field a side that would be the envy of most playing nations.
A competitive Welsh side led at halftime in the first test at Eden Park, before being outgunned in the final 20-minutes by the power of the All Blacks’ bench to lose 39-21.
“The final score doesn’t reflect what a phenomenal first 60 minutes Wales had – Warburton, AW Jones, Liam Williams and North were all outstanding – but New Zealand did what they always do,” wrote Dan Lucas for The Guardian in live match commentary.
After the series was wrapped up in the second test in Wellington on the back of a second half blitz powered by a supersub performance from Beauden Barrett, the All Blacks romped home to an emphatic sweep in Dunedin with a 46-6 victory.
“It was difficult for them – they have played 17 Test matches in the last year and they go home on Sunday so maybe some of them were already on the plane,” said New Zealand coach Steven Hansen.
“They will regroup because they are better than that.”
The dispatching of Wales was just the beginning of a test season that would see traditional rivals, the Wallabies and Springboks, put into a scoreboard torture chamber as Michael Cheika and Allister Coetzee could only sit back and watch their sides get creamed by otherworldly scores.
The Wallabies were pummeled 42-8 and 29-9 in the first two Rugby Championship fixtures while the Springboks were embarrassed 41-13 in Christchurch and then 57-15 at home in Durban.
It was truly an outlier of a year that showed how far the gap was between the world’s number one side and everyone else.
In a surprising turn of events, it would be Argentina who would score the most points against the All Blacks in that tournament, with scores of 17 and 22 in their two losses.
The third Bledisloe ended in another lopsided score, 37-10, as Cheika’s side were well and truly swept in the three match series despite being close rivals 12 months earlier in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final.
The toughest game of the season came on neutral soil in Chicago, as a relaxed second string side were beaten 40-29 by Ireland in a historic upset to begin the end of year tour that spoiled what was looking like a perfect season.
The Chicago test would be the only blemish of the year as the All Blacks repaid Ireland in Dublin a few weeks later with a turnaround 21-9 win. The last test of year proved to be a tight one in Paris as the All Blacks notched another win 24-19 over France.
The side ended with 562 points in the calendar year, an average of 40.12 per test, and won 13 of 14 on the year.
The 2016 All Blacks may have been one of the best of the modern era, as their dominant showings humbled even the fiercest of rivals. The depth of the squad was to be marvelled at, with a large contingent of the World Champion 2011 under-20 side filtering through to the starting side with many of the remainers from the 2015 World Cup win.
To illustrate how much talent the All Blacks had, they played the entire season without Sonny Bill Williams who was with the Sevens side, and World Cup hero Nehe Milner-Skudder who missed the season with injury.
Even the form player of Super Rugby, Chiefs dynamo Damian McKenzie, could not get a look in despite many calls for the excitement machine to be given a chance.
The style of rugby was extremely expansive, with incredible passing sequences laden with fast hands and offloading, the All Blacks seemed to never let the ball die. With attacking guru Wayne Smith as one of Hansen’s assistants, the All Blacks were firing on all cylinders.
The side played with an abundance of natural attacking instinct, and it is no surprise that the likes of Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith and Dagg were heavily involved in the scoring tallies.
Five years on, 2016 may have been the peak of the All Blacks golden era. The following season, the touring British & Irish Lions side broke New Zealand’s home undefeated streak which was followed in 2018 by a home loss to the Springboks and a semi-final exit at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
After a rather dire 2020 season with a historically low output in terms of wins and tries per game, the All Blacks will be looking to get back to the all-powerful status they once were not so long ago.
Watch every try of the dominant All Blacks side of 2016 below
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