Patrick McKendry of APNZ looks back on the international rugby season and what we've learned about the All Blacks in 2012.
They're not the best ever
For further evidence - see England match. To be fair to the All Blacks, this wasn't a tag they were comfortable with, but many New Zealand observers and supporters were beginning to get a little ahead of themselves this year. Yes they went into the final match of the season unbeaten, but the All Blacks almost drew with Ireland on a freezing June night in Christchurch, only for Dan Carter to get them out of jail with a late drop goal and they drew with a Wallabies team in turmoil in Brisbane before saving their worst performance of the year for England, who gladly twisted the knife at Twickenham. They were easily the best team in the Rugby Championship but questions remain about how good the Springboks, Wallabies and Pumas were.
Julian Savea is the All Blacks' best left wing
Savea was one of the success stories of the year, and there were a few for the All Blacks, despite the disappointing finish.
He went to Europe at the end of the year vying with Hosea Gear for the No11 jersey but now can virtually select himself in the position. Savea began his career at the top level with a hat-trick against Ireland at Auckland before going through a dip and then re-establishing himself. He has scored nine tries in 12 tests, including a double in the loss to England. At his best he has power but also finesse - his handling and passing was exceptional
Steve Hansen appears to have the goods
He went into the top job with a few question marks over him but Steve Hansen has had an extremely good year. That the players like his easygoing charm is a given, but one of the most impressive things about the former policeman was his honesty with the media, and by extension, supporters. If a player was dropped, Hansen would say so and give the reasons why. He didn't play any games in press conferences - which isn't something that could always be said about his predecessor Sir Graham Henry - and he showed great patience at times in that area.
The only quibble would be regarding his loyalty to players who probably didn't deserve it - the out-of-form Piri Weepu and Ali Williams.
We're still looking for a Jerome Kaino replacement
They say you don't appreciate something until it's gone and that is certainly the case as far as Jerome Kaino is concerned. The big blindside flanker was a punishing presence around the ruck area before departing for Japan and the All Blacks simply don't have that any more. Liam Messam established himself in the No6 jersey by the end of the year but went missing against England. Former England international lock Paul Ackford, now a journalist, was so unimpressed by Messam's effort he gave him a 1 out of 10. It was probably an overly harsh critique but the fact remains - the All Blacks have yet to find a world class No6.
Richie is consistently the best player in the world
Dan Carter took the IRB player of the year award but there is no doubt Richie McCaw was the more consistent performer. Despite playing in a high-risk and high-impact position, McCaw just kept putting in world-class performances, and all this despite the constant cheap shots from the opposition. His efforts in Dunedin against South Africa were exceptional - before and after he was clobbered by Dean Greyling. There's no doubt he will be missed - by the All Blacks and the Crusaders - but he thoroughly deserves his six-month break.