Five of the greatest teams in Rugby Championship/Tri-Nations history

Best Rugby Championship teams in history Credit: Alamy
Best Rugby Championship teams in history Credit: Alamy

It’s not long until the giants of the southern hemisphere collide in the Rugby Championship, as part of their preparations for the sport’s greatest showpiece, the Rugby World Cup, later this year.

The Rugby Championship, formerly the Tri-Nations prior to 2012, is a celebration of talent in the south and for that reason Planet Rugby has selected, in no particular order, five of the greatest teams across both eras.

All Blacks (2012-2014)

This particular period for New Zealand would not only set the tone for sheer dominance in the newly expanded Rugby Championship but also provide a team that would change the sport completely. From the near-robotic efficiency in the game’s fundamentals to the revolution of the offload to the three-lung fitness, this All Blacks side was professionalism truly personified in the rugby world. Over this period their record was P18 W16 D1 L1, winning three titles in a row.

Notable results: From the 2012 campaign the All Blacks’ Bledisloe opener against Australia typified the side. New Zealand won 22-0 and whilst they only scored one try it was their ability to keep a quality Wallabies side scoreless that was ever impressive.

In 2013, the All Blacks produced one of their best performances of the era at a packed-out Ellis Park in Johannesburg against the Springboks where they ran out 38-27 victors in a fantastic game.

2014 saw New Zealand slip up for the first time but, after drawing 12-12 against Australia, the side responded with a mammoth 51-20 win at Eden Park in a dominant effort.

Key stars: This team was littered with stars led by the great Richie McCaw who was ever-present throughout. Ben Smith, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu were strike players in the backline often led by Dan Carter or Aaron Cruden. The quality in the squad was outrageous with so many legends to pick from. It is possibly the best squad in rugby union history.

All Blacks (2016-2018)

After a slip-up in the 2015 competition, the side won the World Cup which coincided with the departure of several legends including McCaw, Carter and a couple of others. What was impressive in this period is how Kieran Read took over the mantle and continued to push the All Blacks to crazy heights. Their record during this era is P18 W17 D0 L1 and once again going three titles on the bounce.

Notable results: In 2016, it was the All Blacks’ first result which was particularly impressive as they squashed the Wallabies 42-8 in Sydney in a performance for the ages.

In 2017, the side took it to a different level, handing the Springboks a 57-0 defeat – the greatest losing margin in their history. This effort typified the highly skilled and ruthless nature of the All Blacks.

The key 2018 win was against the Springboks again but this time they narrowly beat their rivals 32-30 at Loftus Versfeld thanks to a conversion on the buzzer. This was particularly impressive as they bounced back from a defeat against the same opponents to win in a hostile environment.

Key stars: Read’s exceptional leadership and consistent performances were a hallmark of this team. Beauden Barrett had now stepped into the spotlight and brought about a dynamic attacking structure from fly-half inside Sonny Bill Williams, who continued to change the game with his offloading ability. The second-row pairing of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick truly shone during this period.

Wallabies (2000-2001)

Australia were a dominant force around the turn of the century as they built on their World Cup triumph in 1999 with back-to-back Tri-Nations titles. They became one of the first sides to effectively embrace the professionalisation of the sport and get it right. This was a superstar team that carried world rugby on their back. Their record during this period was P8 W5 D1 L2.

Notable results: Their most important performance of 2000 was their 24-23 win over New Zealand in Wellington. Closely behind this was an impressive 19-18 at a packed Kings Park in Durban.

Meanwhile, in 2001, it was another victory against the All Blacks that stood out. Only this time it was an impressive 23-15 triumph in Dunedin.

Key stars: All-time great John Eales led this team with aplomb as emerging stars Stephen Larkham, George Gregan and Stirling Mortlock started to shine in their careers. There are legends everywhere with Joe Roff, Matt Burke and Chris Latham amongst many others.

Springboks (2009)

The Springboks of 2009 are statistically one of the best sides in their history and the Tri-Nations was a key part of that. It was a massive year for the side that also had a British & Irish Lions tour to consider. The Peter de Villiers side won both in what was the last true outing for the core group of players that won the World Cup two years prior. Their record that year was P6 W5 D0 L1.

Notable results: A 28-19 win over the All Blacks in Bloemfontein steered by a young Ruan Pienaar at fly-half was memorable, as was their return 32-29 win over the same opposition in Hamilton.

Key stars: Legendary John Smit remarkably captained the side from loosehead to make way for a rampant Bismarck du Plessis. Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha were in full flight with Henrich Brussouw and Pierre Spies on fire in the back-row. The backline was loaded with Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers, some names amongst many to note.

Springboks (2019)

The most recent of all the teams and even though the 2019 edition was shortened, this particular Springbok team deserves mention as they broke a bad omen by becoming the first side to win the Rugby Championship and the World Cup in the same year. The transformation of this team from the alarm bells of a poor couple of seasons to southern hemisphere and world champions is admirable. P3 W2 D1 L0.

Notable result: The 16-all draw against the All Blacks in Wellington embodied this group’s spirit as they fought hard against a team that was arguably better for most of the game to fight back and draw thanks to a last-minute Herschel Jantjies try. This result gave them the belief to kick on in 2019.

Key players: Siya Kolisi’s leadership was absolutely critical to the success of the team that the likes of Duane Vermeulen, Eben Etzebeth and Handre Pollard drove. Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi provided the X-factor required to make the difference.

READ MORE: All the training squads announced so far ahead of the Rugby World Cup

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