OPINION: Nothing like a loss to put things in perspective, especially to England.
It has been easy this season to praise the All Blacks. They have taken the feel-good factor of their World Cup success and run with it.
Coach Steve Hansen has been like a populist prime minister with the support of the media and the masses as he's led his side to 12 wins, a draw, and finally a loss.
The positives have been many and the highlights reel of the season will make for entertaining viewing.
Losing to England should not take all the gloss off a fine year and the knee-jerkers who are calling for wholesale changes have memories like goldfish.
However, only defeat will allow the All Blacks to truly self-evaluate where they are at and where they need to go.
Once Swing Low, Sweet Chariot stops drumming in his ears, Hansen will be grateful for the counter-weight to his side's ever more lop-sided evaluations.
He has been frustrated these past weeks by the ever more glowing comparisons of his squad with those of the past and they ramped up to new levels in London.
Hansen is big on staying grounded, but his players were inflated with helium in the buildup to their final test of the season.
His players got ahead of themselves and paid the price.
And, as he digests his first loss as All Blacks head coach, Hansen might also make some new year resolutions.
He has introduced a good crop of youngsters, but there has been a sameness to the All Blacks play as the year has worn on. Predictability has crept in and the opposition have preyed on it.
It is nitpicking of course considering the year, but the All Blacks weren't perfect.
The two passes to forward runners, the inward turning pass (it led to Manu Tuilagi's intercept), the use of Ma'a Nonu to set a target for clearing kicks out of their 22, and the dinky kicks from halfback have been read by opposition defences.
Israel Dagg, Cory Jane and Julian Savea are brilliant individually, but don't work in tandem on the kick return.
If you don't evolve you will stand still. That's Hansen's challenge.
And so is the post World Cup regeneration. Julian Savea, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick have been particularly bright finds. Nine new caps have been introduced.
Depth continues to be an issue at hooker, lock, prop and midfield and for all the talk about senior players going through to 2015, nobody outsmarts Father Time.
England showed the benefits of youth and enthusiasm and Hansen may have to make some big calls next year if his veterans begin to fade.
In coming months the bitter taste of losing to England will dissipate and the achievements of the 2012 team will be looked at in their entirety.
It was a fine, fine season but the All Blacks' search for perfection continues.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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