All Blacks: The History of the Baddest Rugby Team on Earth

December 20

The All Blacks are famous around the world, even with people who don’t watch rugby. The fearsome and celebrated team, which may be mistaken for a squad of hulks dressed in black, are of course fiercely loved national heroes, too. Their prowess with the oval ball has put little ol’ New Zealand on the world stage many a time, and they’re the most successful men’s rugby team in the world. Almost every little boy wants to be one, and every breakfast cereal wants them on their box. For a bunch of men in black, they have a surprisingly colourful history, too.

Where did the All Blacks name come from?

The All Blacks were not always known as such. When they started playing, around the 1880’s, they were known as ‘the Natives’, ‘the Colonials’, ‘the Maorilanders’ or simply ‘the New Zealanders’ – though the term ‘The Blacks’ had also been thrown around. On their 1905 tour of the British Islands, France and Canada, when their white shorts had been changed to match their dark jerseys, English newspapers simply started called them the All Blacks – though their name for that tour had been ‘The Originals’. They were killing it, which meant everyone was talking about them, which meant the name stuck fast.

Captain of the “Original All Blacks” that toured the United Kingdom in 1905, Dave Gallaher is an inductee into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.

On November 15th 1905, they even appeared in prose on the pages of the London Punch:

Can it be your head is turned

By your team of Rugby “Blacks”?

Has the glory they have earned

Set you trotting in their tracks?

Well, it’s not mere weight and gristle,

You must also play the game,

Or the referee may whistle

And you’ll have yourself to blame

If you get a free kick where you don’t expect the same.

Back in those times, the players were, on average, smaller in size than they are today. They had to sail to where they were playing (from Wellington to Europe on the Rimutaka) and they were away from home for nine months.

New Zealand playing England at Twickenham in 2006.

Where do the All Blacks play?

Since they began playing test matches in 1903, the boys in black have played all over the world, with plenty of loyal fans to follow. While about half their matches have been at home, the majority of the rest have been at other rugby-mad countries, like South Africa, England, Australia and France.

The Rugby World Cup, which started in 1987 thanks to the rallying of NZ and Australian enthusiasts, has seen teams travel all over the globe. As well as the usual suspects, the World Cups help to put some of the smaller countries in the game.

How many games have the All Blacks played?

As at end of 2020, they’d played nearly 600 test matches, and when we say play, we really mean put on a show. With their powerful use of the haka, a traditional Maori war dance, a Kiwi test match is more than a game – it’s a visceral experience for the crowd to see. Come any major tournament, the sports news will undoubtedly feature the classic image of a mid-squat All Black, eyes bulging and toungue out.

They began performing the ‘Ka Mate’ haka as early as the 1905 tour. This haka was composed by Te Rauparaha of Ngāti Toa to commemorate his escape from death in 1810, but in 2005, the ABs changed it up. In August, before the Tri Nations test match against South Africa at Carisbrook, they began performing ‘Kapa O Pango’, a new haka for and about the ABs.

The All Blacks at the climax of their haka before the 1932 test against Australia at the exhibition ground, Brisbane.

How many World Cups have the All Blacks won?

They’ve got three World Cups to their name, including taking out the inaugural title. They were also the first squad to win 500 test matches, according to the official website. In actual fact, for all you hardcores out there, this same website has got in-depth game stats, analysis and information. Head to allblacks.com, and watch old game videos till the cows come home.

How many games have the All Blacks lost?

They’re known for their wins, but their losses (which number close to 100) are just as historic, often resulting in long-standing rivalries with other teams. December 16th, 1905 saw one of these such rivalries born, during a New Zealand vs Wales game over a disallowed Kiwi try. It was the only loss for the ABs on that ‘Originals’ tour, and a close one at that, but Wales then won three of its first four matches against the New Zealanders, the last in 1953. By 2020, however, the ABs had won all 31 subsequent tests.

How many All Blacks have played 100 Tests?

There are 9 players who’ve achieved this ultimate service to the game, including Kevin Mealamu, Tony Woodcock and Dan Carter, who also holds the record for the most number of test points. Richie McCaw holds the title for the most, having played 148 test matches for the ABs between 2001 and 2015. McCaw, arguably the most loved character in the game, was also the first AB to play over 100 test matches.

Who is the best All Black player ever?

That’s a tough title to give out, with hoards of loyal fans ready to defend their favorite player, but we’ve got to bring it back to Richie. Captaining between 2006 and 2015 through 98 victories and two World Cups, McCaw is one of the world’s most respected sporting captains. Not only that, New Zealanders adore him – to be an All Black Captain is close to the greatest sign of success in NZ. In 2015, he became the youngest person to be appointed member of the Order of New Zealand for his services to the country, and two years after he retired, Kiwis voted him as their most trusted sportsperson. In 2020, his latest accolade became being named as Union Player of the Decade.

Argentina_vs_all_blacks – Hika Reid (NZ)

Who was the youngest All Black to play in a Test match?

This was a young 19 year old Jonah Lomu, who would go on to become rugby’s first global superstar. The match was in 1994 in France, and marked the beginning of an incredible career for the wing. Drawing crowds wherever he played, Lomu shares the World Cup try scoring record at 15 tries (scored over two tournaments). Tragically, the legend was diagnosed with a serious kidney disorder in 1995, which affected his career and ultimately led to his death in 2015.

Lomu was the youngest, but the title for the eldest was won a whole lot earlier. Ned Hughes was 40 years and 123 days old when he played his final test against South Africa in 1921.

What is the All Blacks winning percentage?

With a victory rate of 88% across over a century, they’ve created an absolute legend. That surpasses any other nation that’s top in their sport, including Brazil for football and Australia for cricket. So what is it that makes them so good? It can’t just be eating Weetbix for breakfast.

There are a few theories around. Some say it’s their ‘aura’, which is both magnificent and hugely intimidating for other teams. Others, like AB Jereme Kaino, call it ‘rugby intelligence’ – the way players think and react and execute their skills under pressure.

Others say it’s the extraordinary amount of pressure from the entire nation to perform well – imagining the news headlines following a loss would be a better push than any to make it over the try line.

And, of course, the country’s dedicated nurturing of talent in the sport helps pluck the best ones out early and push them to the top. Come Saturday morning, every field across the country is filled with schoolkids from 4 years old learning how to tackle, scrum and flick the ball across the pitch.

Or, maybe it’s just genetic. There have been 47 sets of brothers to play for the All Blacks, the latest being Beauden, Jordie and Scott Barrett, and 19 fathers and sons.

When did rugby league start in New Zealand?

The inaugural rugby league match was in Wellington in June, 1908, though the history of league has its roots in English soil. There was actually already a professional New Zealand team of league players touring in the UK before the official New Zealand Rugby League was set up in Aotearoa in 1909.

Despite pressure and competition from the Rugby Union, league took off. There’s an ongoing, friendly(ish) rivalry between league and union, which, funnily enough, goes back to politics.

Back in the 1870’s, the game was split between those who wanted to be paid as professionals (league) and those who thought this was abhorrent and were rich enough to play for fun (union). Because the professionals had to draw crowds to continue to earn a living, they had to tweak their game to be faster paced and easier to understand.

Union has retained its popularity across the world with the exception of Australia, where league reigns supreme. The New Zealand National League team uses the name ‘The Kiwis’, and while they’re nowhere near as popular as the AB’s, they did win the 2008 World Cup.

So there you have it – a very brief history of the mighty ABs. For a true taste of the action, though, you’ll have to get yourself along to a test match. We dare you not to become a fan.


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