Unbeaten but not unbeatable - that seemed to be the feeling from a gracious global media acknowledging the All Blacks' perfect year after yesterday's great escape against Ireland.
The All Blacks' ability to record a perfect 14 wins in 2013 was duly noted around the world, from rugby strongholds Europe and South Africa to outposts like New York and Bangkok.
There was no lack of applause but, two years out from the defence of their World Cup in England, there was also the feeling that the past month up north had offered some hope to the chasing pack.
The Guardian's senior rugby writer, Eddie Butler, had a succinct summary after witnessing yesterday's last-gasp 24-22 win in Dublin.
"It is a record to savour, a balm for nerves shredded here," he wrote of Aaron Cruden's second-chance conversion creating history for the All Blacks in the professional era.
But he was eager to put some perspective on things.
"The All Blacks have been rattled in each of their three games in Europe, by France, England and now Ireland - but never like here [in Dublin].
"[This] was fast turning into the ultimate test of powers of recovery. That they passed the test puts a sheen on the year and at the same time offers comfort to the teams that remain in pursuit of the standards set.
"The ABs are unbeaten but not quite as unbeatable as they appeared when they beat South Africa in the finale of the Rugby Championship. In Johannesburg they swept imperiously to a title; in Dublin they could barely raise an arm in triumph. Blood leaked from the brow of McCaw ... a lot of the red stuff had to be spilt here."
Butler labelled the All Blacks' remarkable recovery as "magnificent, truly magnificent" and he marvelled at their ability to soak up the pressure and stay cool. He felt that was reflected after the final whistle sounded on their historic achievement.
"There were a few smiles but this was not greeted as if a national lottery was landed. What pressure, what stress? There seems to be a unique quality to the southern sporting psyche: not to be carried away by euphoria, not to give way to tension but to embrace the opportunity. In a penalty shoot-out there would be 15 Kiwi hands raised to take a shot."
In The Telegraph newspaper, Mick Cleary was in fine form in summing up the occasion: "It was gripping, it was draining and it was dramatic. Fittingly on the Sabbath day the All Blacks managed to roll back the stone and rise from the dead to deny Ireland the most famous of victories. Even in this land of tall tales and poetic minds such a finish was beyond the wildest imagination."
While Cleary felt "Ireland's misery was total" and that "they may never get this close again" he believed Joe Schmidt's side had lessened the awe that was building around the All Blacks.
"This was as close as anyone has got to them. The Springboks dented the All Blacks, so too England but it is Ireland who managed to take dirty great lumps out of them. The upshot is that the rugby world is in a far better place this morning. Supreme as New Zealand are at the top of the rankings, their aura has frayed. They are beatable. Just not yet."
In the immediate aftermath the Irish media couldn't see past their own pain, best summed up by Carl O'Malley in the Irish Times.
"What can be said after that?" he lamented.
"When they talk about sport being cruel these are the moments they are referring to, when maximum effort and energy is expended for absolutely no tangible reward."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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