European tour still unpredictable for ABs
Predictable as a European international rugby winter can be, it is the unexpected that keeps the magic of an All Blacks end of year tour alive.
There is a perception that the All Blacks have not lost in the northern hemisphere since 2002, the year they suffered a 31-28 loss to England.
Jonny Wilkinson's boot broke sent us all off to bed grumpy in the days before MySky, a time that demanded blurry eyes at work on Monday mornings.
Since then the test slate has been clean on end of year tours, 21 tests and counting, a 20-20 draw with France that same year the only blip on the radar.
But the notion that the All Blacks have been invincible in Europe during the professional era is simply not true.
In 2009 a beaming Joe Rokocoko stood under Twickenham's main stand with a broad grin that had nothing to do with New Zealand domination.
Rokocoko's Barbarians teammate Bryan Habana terrorised the All Blacks that year and scored a hattrick of tries for the international selection during their 25-18 win, the final international match of the calendar year.
Current All Blacks Richie McCaw, Cory Jane, Tamati Ellison, Liam Messam, Ben Smith, and Wyatt Crockett were all on deck that day.
It was not a test, but a loss, as they say, is a loss.
A week earlier the All Blacks had produced their best effort of the year in thrashing France 39-12 in Marseilles.
Nobody gave the high spirited Barbaas a chance.
Ditto for the 2007 World Cup quarterfinal against France. It was a test match, albeit not on an official end of year tour, played in the northern hemisphere, at Millennium Stadium.
Let's not bother repeating the details or even the score line of that match.
Let's not dredge up the 1999 World Cup where the All Blacks lost again to the French, this time at Twickenham.
The All Blacks record is exceptional wherever they play and in the northern hemisphere it is impressive in the professional era.
Train spotters will point out that Hong Kong is above the equator, but New Zealand have played 46 test matches in Europe since 1996 with five losses, two draws and 39 wins.
Those blips provide enough evidence to dismiss the myth that end of year tours are a walk in the park for New Zealand teams.
Close calls like the thrilling last gasp 18-16 win over Munster in 2008, the one point 26-25 escape against Wales in 2004 and the scrappy 19-12 win in 2009 are other reminders of the ever-present threat of an upset.
The All Blacks remain the benchmark, the trend setters and the entertainers of the world game.
But they are also aware nothing is for certain, even in the north. It's what makes the four test matches against Scotland, Italy, Wales and England compulsory viewing.
Northern blips in the professional era
1997 - 26-26 draw with England at Twickenham
1999 - 31-43 loss to France at Twickenham
1999 - 18-22 loss to South Africa at Millennium Stadium
2000 - 33-42 loss to France at Marseille
2002 - 28-31 loss to England at Twickenham
2002 - 20-20 draw with France at Stade de France
2007 - 18-20 loss to France at Millennium Stadium
2009 - 18-25 loss to the Barbarians at Twickenham*
*Not a test match