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All Blacks Top 10: Coming into The Investec Rugby Championship

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James Mortimer     22 Jun 2014     Getty Images

They will enter as two-time (12 overall) reigning winners, and end the Steinlager Series against England as the International Rugby Board’s number one ranked team.

Form at the right time

Some might have asked questions of some All Blacks, but there was a peak that saw the World Champions put together, not for the first time against England, some withering offensive bursts. The Test squad looked more in sync with each passing game.

Many of these All Blacks will be back for The Rugby Championship and the team will be sharper for having this hit out over three games against England, who entered New Zealand and left as fourth ranked Test nation. Most of the group looked enhanced after being in the international environment.

Regeneration continues

In theory, head coach Steve Hansen could introduce five or six more players and presuming all the 25 capped since 2012 were available, field an entire squad without World Cup winning experience for a Test series.

As is part and parcel of the New Zealand system it seems a player always seems to come along and look instantly comfortable, but the transition helps when there are roughly 700-800 Test caps in the senior echelon of the team.

Thanks for the barometer

England have played a series in what is what of the tougher entries towards The Rugby Championship, and while the second and third Tests saw the All Blacks put together key match winning bursts, they were given a thorough examination by the 2015 World Cup hosts, still the only team to defeat the World Champions.

To be fair, the Wallabies and Springboks haven’t looked to have been given the same level of inspection over June and New Zealand will now have a vague picture of the world order at this time, and have every reason to feel confident of a title defence.

Enter Dan Carter

Daniel Carter will likely be part of All Blacks calculations for their next squad, which will mix things up as never did the home number 10 truly stamp their authority on proceedings over June, something the world record point’s scorer has done with regularity.

Aaron Cruden looked sharper in the third Test, while Beauden Barrett was clearly given a backup role with the selectors wanting to see the Chiefs playmaker perform if given the rights of incumbency. Carter will be boast sheer seniority which will immediately rattle the status quo.

Home rights a bit different

The All Blacks have, despite an imposing 33 straight win Test record on home soil, will have to leave their citadels to travel to the backyards of the Wallabies and Springboks. Still boasting a 70% touring record, the World Champion’s travelling ledger drops to 61.3 and 44.7 in Australia and South Africa respectively.

Travelling away hasn’t fazed New Zealand for some time, but if they are to have streaks ended or championship’s threatened, it will likely come on the fields of their opponents at this stage.

Hard selection decisions ahead

One constant of the Hansen era despite continued reintroduction of players is that he hasn’t strayed from a first choice XV often, and such a group will be firmly in place when crunch clashes arrive in the coming months.

From here, another 30 or so players are entering another list, to be charged with bringing a certain trophy back to New Zealand late 2015. Jerome Kaino v Liam Messam, Ben Smith’s position out wide, Kierad Read’s recovery and Carter’s return might be on the table – but one suspects Hansen and co know their top 25.

Tactics, what tactics?

The All Blacks had a furious intensity at times in Hamilton, for the humble ‘ordinary man’ impossible to maintain. Their bursting and physical desire to keep their structure, play to what is necessary, boss the set piece and dominate the contact, allowed the bigger things to come.

When purring at fifth gear, New Zealand looked well rounded and calm, with the numerous arsenals to win the minor contests throughout the game, even if they didn’t look reliant on a particular approach or strict game plan. Over the three Tests we have seen more and more of that ‘give me everything you’ve got’ attitude on defence, which often is the backbone of the team’s attacking game when turning over possession.

Problems turned into good points

That unyielding desire to put together the complete 80 minute performance continues, however at key moments it is clear that the All Blacks can lift into a gear which has been the final difference between many opponents during their 17 Test run.

A strong squad looks the goods, as does their chameleon like ability to shift their in game mindsets, but a second half to wrap the series saw England nullify the champions. Hansen and co will have a short break before naming their next squad, and they will tweak their game accordingly – the correction in strategy throughout the three Tests was remarkable from New Zealand.

The most experienced men in history

Richie McCaw, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith and the soon to return Dan Carter represent over 600 Test caps of experience, while the next layer is not one of backups, but of a rank of lieutenants averaging 30-60 Tests caps.

Owen Franks, Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read, Cory Jane, Liam Messam, Jerome Kaino and Aaron Cruden fill an impressive secondary unit with the All Blacks at a pinch capable of fielding a near 800 Test cap starting XV.

Such experience is crucial for World Cup success, while the above players are ‘Test Thinkers’ and are not fazed even in the closing minutes of intense international rugby combat. With form behind them they will be the leading vanguard of next year’s World Cup charge.

Springboks strength lies in wait

The challenge South Africa brings this year will be extraordinary as they are the only other team in world rugby that is clearly trusting their immediate future with a core of once-in-a-lifetime players.

This is matched with a brutal power game that is as advanced with age as the All Blacks tactical awareness grows with time, two squads that are littered with the most experienced players of each respective nation’s rugby tomes.

History might have in recent decades tipped the rivalry towards New Zealand, but the forward belligerence of the Springboks has caused issues for the men in black’s mechanical functions before.