Which nation would that be? Most neutrals would limit rugby union's greatest test playing nation to the so-called Big Three powerhouse countries as per the current Nos 1 to 3 on the IRB Ranking table. But that table is hardly a true reflection of who should be at the summit. It really is just a gauge for general indication purposes. Some would reserve their judgement on that.
Stuart Barnes,a rugby union columnist for skysports,says this about 1987 worldcup:"The All Blacks conquered the entire rugby world,but the absence of South Africa,still in sporting exile[at the time],did diminish the competition and New Zealand's win [was not quite the real thing without South Africa in it]."
However Dean Ryan,another rugby pundit,says this about the All Blacks:"Their combination of pace, power and movement off the ball sets them head and shoulders above anyone else we've ever seen. If ever there were points for style then the All Blacks would get the full 10 points with no cracks to be seen...South Africa on the other hand goes about quietly in their show of strength.The Boks are the most powerful team in world rugby. Zero points to them for style in rugby,but 10 for their raw power. Their is beauty in their power,you just have to look harder sometimes to find it."
James Gemmel,Super XV pundit on Skysports,says:"In both Super Rugby and Tests Rugby, South Africa have some of the best packs in the world game, made up of some of the strongest leaders South Africa has ever produced. As we follow the progress of the South African opposition in Super Rugby, there's growing proof that the Springbok fightback is underway."
Apart from what these three columnists have said about the Bok's greatness what is a sure indicator why South Africa could arguably be the greatest test playing rugby nation of all time?
Huh Richards wrote in ESPN scrum.com:"The most spectacular results in the history of international rugby union involve South Africa. Matches involving the Springboks have gone into the game's folklore,forever associated apocryphally perhaps with the words 'we were lucky to get nil'. The Springbok's enduring power had been recognized by many fair-minded All Black supporters as some of the most exceptional play on display by the Boks.
Here are just two such games that happened one after the other:
1.The 1949 test series South Africa whitewashed New Zealand 4-0. Such was the effect on the All Blacks that the New Zealand Ministry of Culture and Heritage said on its website " that defeat plunge New Zealand into a state of despair...Most New Zealand rugby players viewed playing the Springboks as the pinnacle of their career...Since rugby went professional in 1995, countries like Australia, England and France have challenged New Zealand and South Africa’s claims to be the only two powerhouses of world rugby. Even so, there are few games ever bigger than the All Blacks versus the Springboks."
2.The 1951 test match against Scotland. South Africa won 44-0. South Africa first tour in 20 years since the 1931-32 visit to England,the Boks were expected to beat the Scots as they haven't lost to Scotland in 45 years since that infamous 6-0 lost in 1906.What made this Scottish team not a joke team was the fact that a few weeks earlier the had destroyed a British and Irish Lions star-studded Welsh team 19-0 called the greatest shock in Five/Six Nations history ever.
Commentator Bill McLaren,wrote:"The quality of the South Africans was like sevens played by 15 men. I had never seen anything quite like them. I had never seen a prop forward run as fast as Chris Koch, had never seen as huge a man as Okey Geffin kick goals, had never seen very big forwards, such as Ernest Dinckelmann, Jan Pickard, Gert Dannhauser, Basie van Wyk, Saltie du Rand and Hennie Muller, running and handling with such dexterity. When they were launched it was like watching a cattle stampede; with remarkable skill and ball transference they brought a new dimension to forward play."
Assistant manager Danie Craven said afterwards:"That was the best performance I could remember by a Springbok side veteran Jock Wemyss wrote:"Never have I seen such a superb pack of forwards as I've seen in the Boks...Every Bok forward except Fry scored".
Back in 1951 a try counted for just 3 points,but under today's scoring values the Boks actually won 62-0. What this so great about this match is that this scoreline remained the record margin of victory for any full cap international between two rugby nations until Ireland beat Romania 60-0 in 1986.And because it was a low scoring era in 1951,this games also remains the greatest hammering ever inflicted by one major rugby nation onto another to this very day.
Also the Five Nations,of which Scotland was a part of,was one of perhaps only two major recognizable rugby union events at the time,unlike today where there is so much more rugby being played. The average scoreline for the Five Nations in its first 10 seasons after WWII was 7.48 points for the team winning. South Africa score 6 times that against Five Nation powerhouse Scotland with not a single reply.
Today the average score in the Six Nations is 21.6.To match that 44-0 result of South Africa a modern team would have to win 129-0 in relative terms. The Springboks completed a series whitewash in Europe by winning all of their 5 international matches including a 25-3 win over France. It would not be until 1956 that South Africa would lose a series against anyone and that was only against the All Blacks that rugby historians say the Boks got seriously challenged for the first time in 50 years by anyone.
As Bill McLaren observed:"The South Africa defeat turned Scotland's decline into a collapse. The second half of that calvary should be called 'Scotland's Long Dark Tunnel' as there is nothing quite like the Springbok deluge at Murray field in 1951 and the ghastly years that followed it."
References: 1.www.espnscrum.com 2.wwww.skysports.com,Stuart Barnes. 3.Dean Ryan,skysports. 4.James Gemmel,skysports. 5.www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/all-blacks-vs-springboks
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