'England not yet in All Blacks' league'

Brian O’Driscoll.
Brian O’Driscoll.

England may have matched New Zealand's world record of 18 consecutive Test match wins but former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll believes the All Blacks remain without equal.

No further evidence was needed than New Zealand's back-to-back Rugby World Cup wins (2011, 2015) and their status as the world's top-ranked side since 2009.

"They're the best team in the world and the standard bearer for world rugby," the 38-year-old told The Straits Times yesterday in a phone interview.

O'Driscoll is an HSBC ambassador and is in Hong Kong to attend this week's leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

He has been, however, impressed by the work done by Australian coach Eddie Jones in turning world No. 2 England's fortunes around.

CLOSEST CHALLENGERS

I definitely sense that if there's a team to compete with (the All Blacks), England are putting their hands up right now.

BRIAN O'DRISCOLL, former Ireland captain, believes Eddie Jones' men can threaten New Zealand's dominance.

He said: "They're playing incredibly well under Eddie, and I definitely sense that if there's a team to compete with (the All Blacks), England are putting their hands up right now."

Curiously, it was Ireland that halted both New Zealand and England's bid for a 19th straight Test win and O'Driscoll said that offered proof of his country's ability to challenge the duopoly. He has set a semi-final target at the 2019 World Cup in Japan for the Irish.

While he admitted his countrymen lacked consistency during the recent Six Nations - notwithstanding their 13-9 victory over England to deny the champions a second straight Grand Slam - O'Driscoll pointed out that the squad has greater strength in depth.

"I think the quality is coming through and you're not just dealing with the best 23 or 30 players.

"You have 35 or 40 very good players who are competing for places and as a result they're raising the overall standard of the team," said the former centre, who in 2009 led Ireland to their first Grand Slam in 61 years.

"That is one big improvement since the few years ago when I was with the team and you're going to need that if you're going into a World Cup that's only a couple of years away.

"You're going to need the quality of not just a very good first team, but you also need guys to seamlessly fit into the system and be at top form."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2017, with the headline ''England not yet in All Blacks' league''. Print Edition | Subscribe