Let's start with the good news. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter came through their pre-Paris shakedowns without adding to their combined catalogue of injuries for 2013.
That, in many ways, was the most important outcome of this historic test between the All Blacks and Japan at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium - the first ever official international between these two nations outside of a World Cup.
That the world's No 1 side ran in eight tries to ease to a 54-6 victory was never really in doubt.
It was always going to be a matter of how big the margin would get, and it never really got into embarrassing territory for the home side who demonstrated palpably they're an outfit on the improve, if not quite ready to give the top-tier a shake.
As much as this test had been pegged for "development" purposes - with four debutants and a host of backup men getting a run - it also ended up being very much a sharpener for the injury ravaged McCaw and Carter ahead of the three big tests to come in the north.
On that score it was a resounding success, McCaw getting through the full 80 and Carter playing 50 minutes before he was pulled. Both came through unscathed and had enough moments of sharpness to suggest they'll be good to go in Paris next weekend.
Carter showed no signs of the shoulder problems that had marked him absent for much of the Rugby Championship, and McCaw notched a powerhouse try and got through plenty of the physical stuff, which he would have enjoyed.
"It was good to get 80 under the belt no doubt," said a happy McCaw afterwards.
"It was a pretty quick game, but the legs felt good and it was nice to get a bit of contact in. It was nice to get the feel of the game again, and I'm looking forward to the next one already."
Backs coach Ian Foster also declared himself content with Carter's efforts. "He can get sharper, but it was nice to see him settle in. He had a few clear focuses on the field, and getting through 50 minutes will be good for his confidence. He kicked well, go, and as he grew into the game he started to look a lot more comfortable, so he'll be happy with that."
It wasn't the All Blacks at or near their near their best, and probably was never going to be given the scratch nature of the lineup.
Charles Piutau was outstanding on the left wing, Frank Halai did some good things on debut on the right - and got a try to mark the occasion - and Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith and Carter all produced touches of class.
Up front Steven Luatua impressed as the go-to lineout guy and after a shaky start the scrum eventually steadied.
Dom Bird would have enjoyed his first test as he showed glimpses of the talent to go with his size, while Sam Cane also reaffirmed his status as someone who's going to keep McCaw pretty honest from here on in.
Jeff Toomaga-Allen and loose forward Luke Whitelock both came off the bench to win their first caps, and the match fittingly ended with the All Blacks digging in to deny the gallant home side a late try that the crowd was baying for.
A 7-6 lead to the All Blacks after the first quarter reflected a sloppy start. Piutau had crossed for the first of four first-half tries on the 10-minute mark when he lapped up a high ball bumble by No 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani, but Ayumu Goromaru's pair of penalties kept the "Brave Blossoms" in the hunt.
The full house couldn't believe their eyes. They were expecting a conquest, and were watching a contest.
But then, in the blink of an eye, the All Blacks went up a level. As they do. Flanker Cane was put over by some nice skill from Dane Coles, Ben Smith was in for his 12th try of the year when he worked nicely with Piutau down the left touchline and from an unpromising scrum, skipper McCaw willed his way over the line for a 28-6 halftime lead.
Four more tries came in the second half - to Jeremy Thrush, Halai, Barrett and Piutau - as the match repeated its pattern. The All Blacks showed flashes of their class, and the Japanese fought hard, but without the required skill.
Honours even really, but the All Blacks march on with their perfect test year.
New Zealand 54 (Charles Piutau 2, Sam Cane, Ben Smith, Richie McCaw, Jeremy Thrush, Frank Halai, Beauden Barrett tries; Dan Carter 5 cons; Barrett 2 cons), Japan 6 (Ayumu Goromaru 2 pens). HT: 28-6.
Upside: Richie 'n Dan get a game under their belts, four new caps are introduced to the All Black way, Ben Smith got some more time at centre and win No 11 on the bounce this year was achieved with some comfort.
Downside: It wasn't quite the All Blacks at full throttle as they started slowly and worked through a few dusty periods. Probably to be expected given the lineup, but still we have high standards for these guys.
Star man: Had to be Piutau. A classy display by this impressive young man.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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