APNZ's Michael Brown lists five reasons why the All Blacks have to win all four games on their northern tour.
1. Keeping up appearances
The All Blacks have played some sublime rugby this year under new coach Steve Hansen and have the chance to go through a calendar year unbeaten (John Hart's team of 1997 was the last to achieve it). But a lot of that will be undone if they trip up against Scotland, Italy, Wales or England. Defeat will leave a stain against the side and leave many looking back on 2012 with only qualified satisfaction.
2. The streak
They might have missed out on one world record - the 18-18 draw with Australia scuppered any chance of establishing a new winning streak - but they are still on course to set a new unbeaten record. Their unbeaten run sits on 17 games and they need another seven to overtake what the All Blacks achieved from 1987 to 1990. The current side want to be known as one of the world's best ever and to reinforce they are deserved world champions. To enter the pantheon, however, they need to hold at least one record.
3. Northern chill
It's okay to lose to South Africa occasionally, even Australia, but defeat to a northern hemisphere side is unacceptable. The All Blacks have not been beaten by Italy (11 wins from 11) or Scotland (26 wins, two draws) and were last beaten by Wales in 1953. The last time England triumphed was in consecutive games in 2002 (31-28 at Twickenham) and 2003 (15-13 at Westpac Stadium) and it's not something that can change now, if only to keep the northern scribes and fans quiet(er). They haven't lost a game on a northern tour since 2002 and won't want to start now.
4. Hansen could truly flush the dunny and move on
Coach Steve Hansen has probably already moved out of the considerable shadow cast by Sir Graham Henry but a defeat will only see some of the doubts about him return. There were many who questioned Hansen's original appointment, even going as far to suggest the All Blacks would be in something of a holding pattern until the likes of Todd Blackadder, Jamie Joseph or even Pat Lam were ready to take over. Hansen has deliberately implemented a different game plan to the one employed by Henry and it has produced an attractive and successful style - so far.
5. Some players' All Blacks careers depend on it
Hansen has introduced a number of new players in 2012 and it's reasonable to believe the future looks bright but there are a handful who have been picked on reputation rather than merit. This tour could well be the last opportunity Ali Williams and Piri Weepu, in particular, have to convince selectors and fans they are still genuine All Blacks. Both have had difficult years - Williams with injury and Weepu with form - and there are plenty of players emerging in their position ready to step up.
- APNZBy Michael Brown Email Michael