British and Irish Lions 2017: What makes the All Blacks so special in an era of domination?

Two World Cups and just 15 losses in 10 years, there are plenty of reasons why the Liovs vs New Zealand is the greatest Test series in the world

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The Independent Online

There is an advert on New Zealand television that promotes the Lions tour as “the return of the greatest series in world rugby”, and that’s true, yet not just because of the prestige about the touring side when four nations come together as one, but because there is something special about the All Blacks.

This time around, the stakes could not be much bigger. The last time that the Lions landed in New Zealand, the All Blacks had developed a fearsome reputation, yet were also seen as perennial chokers, given they had not won the Rugby World Cup for 18 years.

There’s now no denying that they are the best team in world rugby, having won the last two World Cups – at home in 2011 and in England two years ago – and suffering just 15 losses over the last 10 years. They have had to cope with the departures of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, the former to retirement and the latter to France, and yet the All Blacks juggernaut continues to roll on as if the all-time greats were never there.

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But it is not just the players that makes this team special. It is the country, a rugby-mad nation that knows their stuff when it comes to the oval-ball game, more so than football or cricket. Children grow up wanting to be an All Blacks, and the team sees the blend of the traditional Maori culture and the British colonisation that represents the country as a whole.

The locals sleep, eat and drink rugby, and it is a game that is steeped in tradition in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Travelling across the country, you will find many local rugby pitches dotted around small towns and villages, promoting the sport that is played up and down the country, not centre around certain areas as you would find in the United Kingdom.

Then there’s the Haka. The spine-tingling moment that no matter where you are or when it takes place, it encapsulates your full attention to watch in awe as the All Blacks lay down the challenge to any side that dare stand in their way. Attempts to counter the Haka have usually ended in failure, with the Lions choosing to do so 12 years ago and the famous stand-off with Wales in 2008 both seeing the opposition come up short.

It’s worth remembering too that New Zealand were the first ever world champions, winning the 1987 inaugural tournament on their own soil, and remain the only side to win the trophy three times, having surpassed two-time winners Australia and South Africa. It’s for this reason that they see their place at the top of the rugby union tree, and if they show even the slightest sign of falling from that perch, the home backlash that they will face will be gargantuan.

However, they don’t look like slipping any time soon, and that in itself should be a daunting prospect for the Lions.