The All Blacks winning streak at Eden Park stretches back to 1994 against all teams and 1986 against the Wallabies. My great mate, Sir John Kirwan, played in both games. So I talked him into chatting about it.
In a glittering All Blacks career that included 96 games and 63 tests (and 48 wins in those tests), JK holds a record he would rather not have.
He played in the last loss at Eden Park, 20-23 to France in 1994, and the previous defeat at the Auckland venue to Australia, 9-22 in 1986.
Loose forward Mike Brewer was the only other All Black to feature in both matches. “Ah, so you want to ruin my day, do you,” JK said when I explained what I wanted to chat about.
“It’s nice to be a part of history, and history is good and bad, but everyone talks about the amazing record the All Blacks have at Eden Park, and I was part of the negative side of that record.”
Adding to that is another piece of unwelcome history. A month after losing to France, Kirwan was in the All Blacks team that drew with South Africa at Eden Park. It was his last appearance for the All Blacks, and till the 15-15 draw with the British and Irish Lions in 2017, it was the last time the All Blacks hadn’t won in Auckland.
Counting that draw with South Africa, they have been unbeaten in 46 tests, winning 44 of those. They have beaten Australia in 22 consecutive tests at Eden Park, a record that goes on the line again in Saturday’s Rugby Championship decider. Kirwan says the three test series against Australia in 1986 is best summed up by one word - turmoil.
The All Blacks old guard had gone to South Africa as the Cavaliers, leaving the Baby Blacks to beat France in the first test of the year.
That team was retained for the opening match against Australia, and though they lost by just one point in Wellington, many of the rebel Cavaliers were brought in for the second test in Dunedin.
They won, again by just a point, but were well beaten, 9-22, in the decider at Eden Park (a match also notable for Marty Berry’s sole, and very brief, test appearance). Kirwan doesn’t have strong memories of the game, more the environment in which it was played.
“It was turmoil,” Kirwan says. “The country was split, the NZRFU was split, the team was split, it was the end of an era.
“The clean-out had happened, and it should have stayed that way. There was a lot happening, that’s for sure. It was not too dissimilar to midway through this year.”
As for the 1994 test, that was an example of what France can produce when a game is allowed to become unstructured. Their ‘try-from-the-end-of-the-world’, scored eventually by Jean-Luc Sardonay after going through nine French hands, was outrageous - and so typically French.
Think Nantes in 1996, the 1999 World Cup semi-final, the quarter final in 2007, and the final in 2011 when they lost by just a point - France is a team that Graham Mourie once said was predictably unpredictable.
While his last two tests at Eden Park didn’t finish how Kirwan wanted, with the loss and draw, it is, he says, his home.
“It’s like a comfortable jacket that you just slip on, and the really sad thing is that my son, Niko, was meant to play for the All Whites (against Australia on Sunday) at Eden Park, but he’s done his ACL.”
As for the All Blacks on Saturday, Kirwan hopes to see a performance that reflects 80 minutes of effort.
Coach Ian Foster has made some interesting calls with his team for the test, knowing the Bledisloe Cup is safe but also aware that he doesn’t want losing at Eden Park to be added to his coaching CV.
Veteran hooker Codie Taylor starts with human wrecking ball Samisoni Taukei’aho surprisingly on the bench after he scored twice in Melbourne.
Sam Cane’s concussion gives Dalton Papali’i his 10th start at openside and Sam Whitelock the captaincy for the 15th time in a test, and Ardie Savea returns at No8.
The injuries in the midfield to David Havili and Quinn Tupaea mean Jordie Barrett starts at second five for the first time in a test, with his brother, Beauden, at fullback.
Jordie has wanted to play second five and finished there in the win in Melbourne. With his height, strong defence, pace and kicking game, he could be a game changer there.
Hopefully, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck also gets some decent game time via the bench. Records are meant to be broken - and these All Blacks have broken a few big ones this year already with the series loss to Ireland and defeat to Argentina in Christchurch.
But the Eden Park streak is significant. The Wallabies have come to Auckland with high hopes before, only for that balloon of optimism to be popped in Sandringham.
This All Blacks side should be too good for Australia, leaving Kirwan with his two unenviable Eden Park records.