There is no doubt the All Blacks are in a transition phase at the moment as 2017 was a year of Steve Hansen trying out different combinations, with injuries and sabbaticals also a factor.
Hansen admitted that he and the management staff had not done enough to rotate players in 2016 which he believed contributed to the groundbreaking loss to Ireland in Chicago in November as players had not been adequately rested.
While selecting his best for the British and Irish Lions tour, Hansen closed out the year by employing a squad rotation policy in which caps were handed to no less than seven players. More pertinently, players who were handed debuts in 2016 such as Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie and Liam Squire became important first-team players.
Ioane has been a revelation since making his debut in the second Lions Test, boasting a phenomenal strike rate of 11 tries from his 13 internationals thus far.
Hurricanes duo Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape are other newcomers who put their hands up with impressive performances this year while club teammate Ardie Savea failed to make quite the same impact.
Ardie’s brother Julian, who has scored 46 tries from 54 matches, was controversially dropped for the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship squad and hasn’t been selected since. But, on a positive note, this has opened the door for Ioane and Waisake Naholo.
Ben Smith took a sabbatical which allowed McKenzie in at full-back, a bright prospect who topped a number of the attacking charts in Super Rugby this year.
Meanwhile, Beauden Barrett was named World Rugby Player of the Year for the second successive year.
While the All Blacks’ vulnerabilities were exposed in the Lions series, they bounced back with an almost perfect record in the Rugby Championship with 28 points, two behind their 30 of last year.
But it was in the third and final Bledisloe Test of the Year that the All Blacks were outplayed for arguably the only time this year as they went down 23-18 to the Wallabies.
So despite not being at their best often, the All Blacks lost just twice and drew once in their thirteen Tests this year showing they are still a force to be reckoned with.
This is because when they turned on the style as they did in the 57-0 annihilation of the Springboks, the reigning double world champions reminded everyone of this gulf in class.
England have closed the gap and continue to grow, with next year’s November Test between the sides a mouthwatering prospect.