The All Blacks are the national Rugby team of New Zealand. They are the current holders of the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations.
The name "All Blacks" was first given in 1905, on the team's tour of England. Stories differ as to how it came about: one is that a newspaper intended to headline an article "New Zealand All Backs", in reference to the team's speed of play, and a printer's error inserted an "l" to create a name which stuck. Unfortunately this charming story seems unlikely to be true; the team had played in an all-black strip for some time before and it is likely that the name derived from this. The New Zealand Rugby Museum has come to this same conclusion after an altogether too detailed reasearch, and has in its posession the diary of manager George Dixon seeming to confirm it.1
The All Blacks draw on players from all five New Zealand Super 12 teams: the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders, and Highlanders, and have long been considered a powerhouse of world rugby. The team won the inaugural 1987 Rugby World Cup held in Auckland, as well as the first Bledisloe Cup clash in 1930/31.
Bad luck has been the hallmark of All Black World Cup performances: the team has never won since 1987. After going out in the semifinals to the Wallabies in 1991, the All Blacks had something to prove at the 1995 Cup in South Africa, where they had made it into the final against the Springboks thanks to rising superstar Jonah Lomu. Shortly before the game, it was discovered that almost the entire team was suffering from food poisoning -- rumours flew that it may have been engineered deliberately by a waitress known as "Suzie", but this was never proven -- but the full team played anyway, even holding the Springboks to a full-time 9-all tie. Extra time was played, and a last-minute drop goal by Joel Stransky won the match for South Africa 15-12 in a moment that shook the nation -- the game was watched by hundreds of thousands of people despite beginning just after midnight New Zealand time.
Following that fateful World Cup, the Rugby Unions of South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand sensed a desire for more rugby in the new professional era, and began both the inter-provincial Super 12 and the Tri-Nations Championship. Both championships prized attacking rugby, with scoring systems designed to promote try-scoring over an insidious game of drop-goals. The championship is held yearly, and the All Blacks have won all but three, the others going twice to Australia and once to South Africa.
New Zealand's oldest sporting rivalry is with its neighbour across the Tasman, Australia. In rugby, this takes the form of the Bledisloe Cup, a metre-high trophy donated in 1931 by Lord Bledisloe (Charles Bathurst), Governor-General of New Zealand from 1930-35. The trophy is usually decided by a two-or three-match series, two of which are also Tri-Nations matches, with outright victory needed to claim it from the defending holder. In this history is on the side of the All Blacks, who have won 66% of their test matches against Australia in a century of rugby history. The longest time the All Blacks have not held the Cup for is five years, 1998-2003.
Over a thousand players have pulled on the black jersey, including the 1924 "Invincibles", but by far the most controversial period was the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand, at a time when tension over South Africa's apartheid regime was at a height. Then--Prime Minister Rob Muldoon refused to cancel the tour, as the previous Kirk Labour government had done. The tour sparked mass riots and protests, including the storming of the pitch in Hamilton, and four flour bombs dropped from a light plane over the final game in Auckland, both leading to the abandonment of play. This situation, polarising the nation like never before, meant that the All Blacks would not tour South Africa again until the end of apartheid.
The honour and recognition of the All Black name has led several of New Zealand's other national teams to adopt similar plays:
- Women's Rugby
- Black Ferns
- Black Caps
- Black Sticks
- Silver Ferns
- All Whites
- Tall Blacks
"Ferns", borrowed from World Champion netballers the Silver Ferns, is often given to women's teams, although as a national sporting symbol the Silver Fern
appears on the uniform of every team.