The world's greatest: Richie McCaw became the first player to reach 100 Test wins

by Ben Coles

Finished: 1st

ALL HAIL the All Blacks. Six wins out of six and a 14 point gap between the champions and second placed Australia show just how far ahead of the rest of the world New Zealand are right now. In fact, to rub salt into the wound, they nilled their Tasman rivals for the first time since 1962 with the 22-0 victory at Eden Park.

The other major landmark was Richie McCaw reaching 100 Test wins, the first player to ever reach three figures with an astonishing win percentage of 89.28%. Regarded by many as the greatest flanker of all time, McCaw was outstanding throughout the inaugural Rugby Championship, making more tackles than anyone else with an average of 13 per game. It’s clear that before the most capped All Black of all time takes his sabbatical next year, he plans to leave everything out on the field.

McCaw was not alone in producing peerless performances. Daniel Carter returned to finish as the tournament’s top points scorer with 58. Ma’a Nonu made the absence of Sonny Bill Williams feel completely insignificant. Cory Jane finished with five tries in six matches to bounce back after a disappointing Super Rugby tournament. Aaron Smith continued to show why he is the All Black No 9 for the future, scoring a try in each of the last three matches.

At their best New Zealand are simply unplayable, but there were moments of concern when they conceded early tries against Argentina both at home and away, and also in the final match against South Africa. Those worries however, of course, were forgotten by the final whistle as the All Blacks hit the accelerator.

Now unbeaten in their last 16 matches since their loss to Australia in the final of last year’s Tri-Nations, New Zealand will look to break the record for the longest winning streak in Tests on their tour of the Northern Hemisphere this November, with the current longest streak of 18 matches held by, surprisingly, Lithuania.

Their level of execution, strength-in-depth and obsession with being the best is the envy of very other rugby nation. What everyone else is wondering however, is are the All Blacks at their peak? And if so, can they be caught?

Star Player: Owen Franks

While McCaw may justifiably take the plaudits, Franks continues to develop into one of the world’s best props. Not solely an excellent operator at the set-piece, the Crusader is very useful around the paddock and made more tackles than any other front rower at an average of nearly nine tackles a game. Conceding only three penalties in six matches is another impressive statistic to back up his burgeoning credentials.

Rising Talent: Luke Romano

Replacing Brad Thorn is no easy task, but Luke Romano is making a pretty decent fist of it. The 26-year old Crusader held the No 4 shirt for the majority of this year’s tournament and finished it with enough stitches to his face to show that Thorn’s durability lives on. He faces tough competition from Brodie Retallick for his shirt, but for the moment he is the man in possession of the shirt.

Follow Ben Coles on Twitter @bencoles_