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All Blacks professionalism highlighted

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Sportal.co.nz     12 Mar 2014     Getty Images

Clive Akers, Adrian Hill and Geoff Miller make the point in their editorial that until the end of the amateur era in 1995, the All Blacks had a success rate of 11.2 over their nearest rival in international rugby, South Africa.

Since the advent of professionalism in 1996, that success rate is now 31.2 percent ahead of South Africa, who were still in second place.

"Other teams talk of peaking for the Rugby World Cup; the All Blacks don't peak, they regularly deliver excellence, as demonstrated by the achievement of increasing their all-time winning percentage in 12 of their last 13 years," the editors said.

But it is not only the All Blacks who demonstrate such dominance. New Zealand ended the year with the world sevens titles for both men and women and the Women's World Cup.

In their review of the year the editors also make the point that attendances at grounds are affected by the superior quality of television production on offer, and while the knowledge of the top commentators is respected, the ex-players used in comments roles should match their criticism of referees with critiques of their area of speciality, the players.

A feature of the Almanack is its New Zealand XV of the year. Often controversial it features the absence of Dan Carter from the side this year. The editors note that they, like the All Blacks selectors, are spoilt for choice.

"There is little doubt that Daniel Carter is the greatest first five-eighth to play the game. However equally there is little doubt we saw more product from Aaron Cruden who is our choice for 2013," they wrote.

Another surprise was the advance of hooker Dane Coles to selection in the wake of Andrew Hore's retirement.

The team is: 1: Tony Woodcock, 2.Dane Coles, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Samuel Whitelock, 5.Brodie Retallick, 6.Liam Messam, 7.Richie McCaw (captain), 8.Kieran Read, 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Aaron Cruden, 11.Julian Savea, 12.Ma'a Nonu, 13.Conrad Smith, 14.Ben Smith, 15.Israel Dagg.

Reserves: 16.Keven Mealamu, 17.Charlie Faumuina, 18.Ben Franks (Hurricanes), 19.Steven Luatua, 20.Sam Cane, 21.Andy Ellis, 22.Beauden Barrett, 23.Charles Piutau.

The Five Players of the Year sees Kieran Read, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Samuel Whitelock take expected places with Tasman's Marty Banks the surprise, though not unworthy, inclusion.

As would be expected of the season's statistical guide, his impact could be measured in facts. In seven previous years of Tasman rugby there had only been five occasions when a player had scored more than 20 points in a game. Banks scored more than 20 points in a game five times on his own during the season! His feat in scoring 170 points in eight weeks of ITM Cup play would take some beating they said.

The Five Promising Players of the Year were: Mark Abbott from Hawke's Bay, Kane Hames from the Bay of Plenty, Milford Keresoma from Canterbury, Rhys Marshall from Taranaki and Richard Mo'unga from Canterbury.

And the happenings column is always good for some rugby trivia.

For instance, did you know that by appearing in 13 wins over France, Keven Mealamu and Ma'a Nonu hold the world record for being in most Test wins over that country?

Also the last-minute win over Ireland featured the biggest come-from-behind win in All Blacks history. They had never been 0-19 down and yet come back to win.

Piri Weepu is in a class of his own. No player in world rugby has made more than his 46 appearances as a substitute, and he has twice been involved in runs of 16 consecutive wins which no other player has achieved.

And there is plenty more where those facts came from.

Given the upheaval in the New Zealand publishing industry in recent years, it is especially notable that a commitment to continue publishing the Almanack ensures a continuity in the game's minutiae without which the game would be much inferior. For that the publishers Upstart Press and the New Zealand Rugby Union are to be congratulated.