Highlights of the perfect All Blacks season
November 26, 2013
Is there a better rugby player right now than Kieran Read? © Getty Images
Richie McCaw hails his "special" All Blacks
Players Of The Year
Kieran Read: Colossal season for the best No.8 - and most probably the best player - in the world. Ran like a three-quarter and scored six tries, but didn't neglect his more muscular duties - including winning more lineouts than any teammate. Led the team impressively when Richie McCaw was absent.
Ben Smith: Took his magical Super Rugby form onto the right wing, where his silky running netted 10 tries in nine Tests. His season took a U-turn when he was asked to play outside centre due to a lack of options to cover Conrad Smith's sabbatical. He made a decent fist of it for five Tests, but he's clearly more suited to the open spaces.
Sam Whitelock: Produced an immense season at lock, firstly in Super Rugby and then on the Test stage. A peerless lineout exponent, he also racks up big tackle numbers, is a reliable carrier, and is often first on the scene when things get a little heated up front.
Aaron Cruden: Dan Carter's injury problems are mounting, but eyelids are barely batted these days at the prospect of Cruden wearing No.10. Creative on attack and much improved on defence, while his match-winning conversion against Ireland, at the second time of asking, also shows his composure under intense pressure.
Ma'a Nonu: He endured another shambolic Super Rugby season followed by speculation that he would be forced to head offshore, but he maintained world-class Test standards and his re-signing is a coup as quality options at second five-eighth aren't overflowing.
The Johannesburg Test was memorable for many reasons © Getty Images
South Africa 27-38 New Zealand, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, October 5
This was a battle of the heavyweights, won in the closing stages by the fitter, hungrier, more skilled side. This was undoubtedly their peak performance of 2013, in a Test described by some as the best in history.
New Zealand 30-0 France, AMI Stadium, Christchurch, June 15
New Zealand blanked the French for the first time, barely making a mistake for long periods in a performance that indicated this could be a special year.
Ireland 22-24 New Zealand, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, November 24
New Zealand won despite being outplayed. Both teams are still trying to work out how.
Ben Smith, v South Africa, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, October 5
Kieran Read roamed wide and drew two defenders before back-handing a flick to Smith, who eluded three defenders on his way to the line. This try summed up the year for both players.
Sam Cane, v Australia, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, October 19
Cross kick from Aaron Cruden, skill at high-speed from Julian Savea, timing from Israel Dagg and support from Sam Cane to scored under the crossbar. This was the All Blacks in attack at their almost undefendable best.
Ryan Crotty, v Ireland, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, November 24
In the space of 100 seconds, the All Blacks moved the ball 60 metres, through 24 passes and 10 breakdowns to break 4.5 million Irish hearts.
Sam Cane's Bledisloe Cup try in Dunedin capped a move that saw the All Blacks at their best © Getty Images
Ben Mowen and Stephen Moore have denied 'dobbing' on Wallabies team-mates after the 'Dublin drinking games' on the end-of-season tour last year
Jenson Button has spoken candidly for the first time on the 'horrific' and heart-breaking grief he suffered after his father's death earlier this year.
Wayne Rooney has revealed his ambition to captain not just Manchester United but also England on a permanent basis
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