The vaunted All Blacks visit Twickenham on Saturday for the first time in four years – and it is set to be a monumental clash.
England have triumphed just once in the last 15 meetings between the two sides and, given New Zealand‘s form heading into this one, the task at hand for the hosts this weekend will be as tough as ever.
With the All Blacks the overwhelming favourites to claim another scalp on Saturday, Sportsmail looks at just how and why the world champions are such a dominant force in the game.
The All Blacks play England at Twickenham this weekend as the most feared side in the world
The All Blacks have ruled the world for the last seven years.
Having won the last two World Cups, and odds-on favourites to retain the crown in Japan next year, their supremacy, at least in recent memory, is as intact as ever.
After winning the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, New Zealand endured a dry spell and some questioned when they would produce on the biggest stage again. It’s fair to say, those questions were well and truly answered.
New Zealand have won the last two World Cups and are odds-on to win the next one in Japan
Since the inception of the Tri-Nations in 1996, including the Rugby Championship after Argentina were added in 2012, New Zealand have won 16 of the 23 southern hemisphere tournaments. An unrivalled period of dominance.
Between August 2015 and October 2016, Hansen’s side went on an unprecedented run, for a Tier One nation, of 18 wins in a row – a feat, however, which was matched impressively by Jones’s England the following March.
To put this all into context, since the All Blacks were last defeated by England in December 2012, they have lost just six Tests in their last 79.
Next stop, Twickenham.
Since Tri-Nations in 1996 New Zealand have won 16 of 23 southern hemisphere tournaments
They’ve lost just six times in last 79 games, most recently against South Africa in September
There are fewer more iconic sights in rugby than the All Blacks jersey. Fewer still than the haka.
New Zealand have a palpable aura about them, an alchemy of uniqueness, history and culture unlike any other in sport.
Rugby is considered almost a religion in New Zealand, a country which holds just a shade under five million people.
For such a small country to maintain its standing on the sport is, in itself, proof that the pull of the All Blacks jersey is enough to continue producing generations of brilliance.
The All Blacks jersey is iconic of not only New Zealand, but rugby itself (picture 1905)
The kit, barring obvious advances in fashion and technology, has remained largely the same
The New Zealand Rugby Union have worn the black jersey since its inception in the first AGM back in 1893. With its silver fern and white collar, it has remained largely the same for 125 years – almost immeasurable history lies in those jerseys.
Similarly the haka holds incredible importance to the team. The haka is a traditional war cry, war dance or challenge from the Maori people of New Zealand.
The ritual, which is carried out before every match on the pitch, starts with the chanted words ‘Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora!’, which, translated to English, means: ‘I die! I die! I live! I live!’
One of rugby’s greatest traditions, dating back to 1905.
The haka, performed before every match, is a ritual which helps to build the aura around them
Given their success and value to the sport, the All Blacks have never struggled to drive income since the dawn of the professional era in 1995.
Professionalism in turn brought jersey sponsorship. In 1995, Steinlager occupied the right breast of the All Blacks jersey with kit-makers Canterbury in the centre.
In 1999, however, the biggest change came. Adidas signed a 12-year deal, believed to be worth £28million, to supply the famous black strip, sports equipment and footwear.
They renewed the deal in 2011, but in the last 12 months we have seen the full picture of this marketing operation.
In 1999 a game-changer was introduced after the All Blacks signed a lucrative adidas deal
In the last year they have extended their contract with adidas and AIG, both featured on all kit
A further extension with adidas has seen their deal soar towards around £5m a year. They have also penned lucrative sponsorship deals with Tudor watches, Vodafone and a huge extension with AIG believed to be worth around £7.5m each year.
The total New Zealand rugby revenue last year was £131m. While still not the sort of numbers one would see coming in at top Premier League football clubs, it’s certainly nothing to turn your nose up at.
In terms of global reach, however, the All Blacks have a Facebook reach of 4.5 million, while brand research in 2016 showed 9.9 million rugby fans in the UK are All Blacks ‘engaged’.
They are a marketing dream and their star players are the most recognisable on the planet
It’s pretty extensive. The All Blacks are blessed with so many talented players they named a 51-man touring squad – excluding coaching staff – this autumn.
They took 32 players to face the Wallabies in the third Bledisloe Test in Yokohama, 22 then flew to London to begin preparations for the Tests in Europe and 19 then came in for the Test against Japan last weekend.
It’s an incredibly well-oiled machine. They swap out one world-class player and bring in another superstar – or superstar-to-be.
Steve Hansen was forced to hand out many new caps while a weakened team played Japan
They boast a luxury team bus and have a hierarchical system on board. All the young players with fewer caps must enter through the front door and sit in the front seats, while the more experienced players enter in the middle door and sit at the back.
Somewhat surprisingly, given the huge amount of travel involved, the All Blacks don’t have a private jet. They do, however, fly business class on charter planes all around the world.
So, what about accommodation? The players stay in plush hotels all around the world: last week they booked into the Conrad Hilton in Tokyo, rated by Conde Nast as one of the best in the city.
Carrying on this autumn’s theme, the squad are currently staying at the Lensbury Hotel in Teddington, south-west London – a five-star-rated residence by TripAdvisor.
It doesn’t stop there, either; only the best for the world champions. Next it’s on to the Crowne Plaza Blanchardstown, Dublin, before rounding off their European trip with a stay in NH Roma Vittorio Veneto – both of which have five-star reviews plastered everywhere you look.
The All Blacks have their own bus, in which senior players sit at the back and young at the front
THE OTHER TEAMS
Not only do New Zealand boast the fully-fledged All Blacks team, they have some subsidiaries.
The most notable is the New Zealand Maori team. They gave the British and Irish Lions’ touring party a run for their money last year, eventually losing 32-10.
But they have had more success of late. So strong are the senior All Blacks, the Maori side are on their own autumn jaunt across the Atlantic.
The Maori All Blacks trounced the USA last weekend 59-22 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The Maori All Blacks, with red trim on their sleeves, trounced the USA 59-22 last weekend
They have, in their history, conquered many international sides, including the Lions, England, Ireland, while the last time they lost to a Pacific Island side was against Tonga in 1973.
Many teams sporadically play with a designated ‘A Team’ to field a second-string side in order to gain experience. This was once the case with New Zealand, who for many years boasted the ‘Junior All Blacks’.
Their last game, however, was played way back in 2009, in the Pacific Nations Cup, a tournament which used to include the likes of the Junior All Blacks, the Maori All Blacks (although never in the same tournament) and Australia A.
They once had a Junior All Blacks team (pictured training), but haven’t played since 2009
PS – IS IT ALL UNDER THREAT?
Money talks. Sportsmail exclusively revealed on Tuesday that New Zealand are so concerned by the prospect of having their best players lured to club rugby in Europe that they are willing to release three of their superstars for two-year sabbaticals in Japan.
Under the current All Blacks regime, players currently playing outside of New Zealand are not eligible to be selected for the national team.
The Top 14 and the Gallagher Premiership, once seen as a last payday before retirement, is now becoming a seriously lucrative career path for some younger players.
All Blacks No 10 Beauden Barrett is among those likely to benefit from a lucrative stint in Japan
Star men such as Charles Piutau, believed to be on a £1m-a-year deal at Bristol, and Lima Sopoaga, at Wasps, have defected to England to rake in the cash.
Sopoaga warned that the lure of that fabled All Black jersey ‘is not enough for a better life’ and it could start a worrying trend for the NZRU.
Sportsmail understands reigning World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett, lock Brodie Retallick and rookie try-scoring phenomenon Rieko Ioane have all been offered stints in Japan to have their bite at the cash-soaked cherry.
Toulon are reportedly closing in on deals for All Black lock Sam Whitelock and wing Nehe Milner-Skudder, while captain Kieran Read has confirmed that he will move abroad after next year’s World Cup.
Charles Piutau was lured to Bristol for a salary reportedly worth £1million per year
Lima Sopoaga, now at Wasps, said the lure of the All Blacks jersey in itself was not enough
What remains unclear is whether the All Blacks will relax their policy of only picking home-based players for Test rugby. Last week, flanker Matt Todd was called up for national service despite being on a short-term sabbatical with the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan.
If that selection serves as a precedent, coach Steve Hansen may yet be able to pick Barrett, Retallick and Ioane if, or when, they go to Japan. In the short-term, that keeps New Zealand strong, but it may accelerate an exodus once players sense that the strict selection policy has been compromised.
Despite the commercial allure of the All Blacks brand, the NZRU lack financial clout. They do not own their own stadium and, in a relatively small economy, gate receipts are modest.
So indeed the All Blacks come to these shores at their all-conquering best. But for how much longer will that be the case?