THE All Blacks are revered as the absolute elite of international rugby and are without doubt the most feared team on the planet.

But in the years since winning the last World Cup in 2015, the Kiwis' colossal reputation has been blotted by a series of scandals — including illicit affairs and even domestic violence.

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The All Blacks performing a pre-game haka before crushing Namibia 71-9 in Tokyo in the World Cup earlier this month

And the shady stories have kept coming as recently as this summer, with several players accused of homophobic abuse and another spitting beer at a woman whilst drunk.

But the headlines haven't held the team back in this year's World Cup, with bookies making New Zealand 4/5 favourites to take the 2019 trophy.

Although England will be doing their level-best to stop that from becoming a reality when the sides clash in the semi-final in Yokohama tomorrow morning.

Here, we look at the recent hurdles the All Blacks have overcome.

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Affair in disabled toilet
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Aaron Smith cheated on his partner Teagan Voykovich, pictured, with lawyer Bridget Morton

Arguably the most public scandal to blight the New Zealand national team was Aaron Smith's tryst with a lawyer in a disabled airport toilet.

The 30-year-old scrum half was spotted entering the toilet to cheat on his girlfriend with Bridget Morton.

Smith was travelling with the All Blacks after a test match against South Africa in Christchurch in September 2016.

The scandal worsened when, a year later, leaked messages between Smith and Morton showed he'd lied to officials about the incident and pressured Morton into signing a false affidavit saying they didn't have sex.

And they even showed Smith asking Morton for sex outdoors in parks and pre-game "good luck" sex acts.
Cheat scandal

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Jerome Kaino pictured with wife Diana Breslin

Shortly after the messages were leaked, a second sex scandal rocked the New Zealand national team.

Reports emerged that veteran flanker Jerome Kaino was having extra-marital affair with a former model.

Australian Tara Pokarier allegedly met up with Kaino for sex in hotels on several occasions before discovering he was married to Diana Breslin.

The dad-of-three was dropped from the team with New Zealand Rugby CEO Steve Tew saying at the time: "We take these issues very seriously, and are also mindful that these issues affect people with families and loved ones."
Girlfriend bloodied and bruised

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Sevu Reece drunkenly injured his girlfriend following an argument in 2018
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Steve Hansen's comments on domestic violence following Reece's case fuelled the controversy

Just last year, wing Sevu Reece was granted a discharge without conviction following a domestic violence charge that left his partner bloodied and bruised.

This means he pleaded guilty, but he was not convicted of any crime and can present himself as never committing any offence.

A drunken Reece, 22, got in an argument with his partner in Hamilton, telling her to shut up in what the court heard was "colourful language".

He then chased her down the street and dragged her to the ground.

She was left with bruising on her face and waist and was bleeding from her knee.

Reece managed to avoid a conviction as the judge ruled it'd hurt his rugby career.

The incident gained new scrutiny when All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen made controversial comments about domestic violence and defended his decision to keep Reece in the team.

Speaking about the issue to Radio Sport, Hansen said: "I don't think there's one New Zealander that wouldn't have put him in the team."


THE ALL BLACKS' ASTONISHING RECORDS

The All Blacks have won more Rugby World Cups than any other team and have smashed countless records on their way to becoming arguably the most dominant team in international sport:

Won the last two titles in 2011 and 2015, as well as the first World Cup tournament in 1987.
Haven't lost a World Cup game since 2007.
Only international men's side to have a winning record against every opponent.
Played 19 international teams since their debut in 1903 – 12 of which have never won a game against the All Blacks.
Held the number one spot in the World Rugby Rankings longer than all other teams combined.
Won the Rugby Championship 16 times in its 23-year history.
An All Black player has won World Rugby Player of the Year 10 times since the award was founded in 2001.

Drunkenly spitting beer

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Richie Mo'unga apologised to the woman he allegedly spat beer at and pinched in Cape Town

Booze has also had a role to play in the more recent scandals.

In May this year, All Blacks fly-half Richie Mo'unga was accused of spitting beer on a woman in a bar in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Crusaders star, 25, was said to have ignored the victim when she complained but then groped her later in the night.

Mo'unga then apologised to her when she sent him an angry message on Instagram the next day.

She also alleged that after Mo'unga ignored her, he pinched her backside later in the evening while she was dancing.

In his Instagram message to the victim, Mo'unga wrote: "I'm really sorry for that. I'm not aware I did that.

"Obviously was intoxicated and should've gone home long before that stage, I'm sorry to you and your friends and want to assure you I don't condone that behaviour and am sorry about that."
Homophobia accusations

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George Bridge was implicated in accusations of homophobia made against Crusaders players in South Africa

The allegations against Mo'unga came just days after one of his Crusader teammates and fellow All Black, George Bridge, was allegedly involved in a homophobic incident in a McDonald's.

Two people in the fast food chain in Cape Town accused Bridge and other players of "physically intimidating" them.

They also said the players made homophobic slurs, limp wrist gestures and put on high-pitched voices.

At the time of the accusation, Bridge denied that anything "untoward" had happened.


THE PRIDE OF NEW ZEALAND

As well as their amazing playing record, the All Blacks have an unrivalled history of racial harmony.


Rugby brought Maori and Pakeha (white New Zealanders) together since the sports' formalisation in New Zealand in 1870.

And since then, Kiwi rugby fans have fought against racism in the sport, perhaps most notably in the 1981 South Africa tour of New Zealand when protesters demonstrated against apartheid.

Later in the decade, the first Rugby World Cup saw players of Pacific Island heritage like Michael Jones became national heroes.

To this day, the team comprises of players of different races and cultures.

In the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final, seven of the All Blacks starting fifteen were of Polynesian descent.

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But despite all the scandals, kiwis seem willing to forgive their team almost anything because of the incredible pride they have in the All Blacks.

Such intense support from New Zealanders will make the All Blacks a massive threat in tomorrow's clash.

But former England skipper Dylan Hartley says the English "team will believe" they can win.


England vs New Zealand FREE - Live stream, TV channel, kick-off time and betting odds for Rugby World Cup semi final