A win, a loss and a draw rates as the worst winter series of the Steve Hansen coaching era and yet the All Blacks are probably in better shape than normal coming into the Rugby Championship.

The prophets of doom may well be seeing a team on the decline, believing they have found new weaknesses and that further problems ahead.

Let these sorts rabbit on for too long and they will talk about the collapse of the All Blacks' attacking game - swear that the coaching team have run out of ideas, gone a bit stale and are now seeing out time until the All Blacks head off to the next World Cup and inevitably bomb.

But the picture isn't like that at all. It never is so defined and in the same way as the All Blacks weren't actually untouchable last year nor are they now a busted flush.


The reasons for optimism heading into the Rugby Championship are considerable. The important bits to recognise are that the All Blacks will be coming in on the back of three brutal tests that will have conditioned and prepared them well to what lies ahead.

They unexpectedly had to blood more youngsters than they wanted, all of whom delivered and will be better equipped to take part in the Rugby Championship and the fact they didn't win the series has left them with not a shred of complacency.

"There are always going to be people who react that way because people are used to winning everything," said Hansen in regard to those who have said the series draw represents the end of an era of dominance.

"That in itself is probably one of the reasons why this has been such a great series - people get a wee sense of reality because there are other teams out there who can play rugby, especially when you combine four of them into one.

"It's pretty disrespectful when you think that just because we've drawn the series we've gone backwards; no Ben Smith, no Dane Coles - two of the best players in the world - no Ryan Crotty, no Sonny Bill Williams, no Waisake, no Rieko Ioane... there were a lot of people not there for the third test."

In the crunchy bits of the game, the All Blacks are doing just fine. Their scrummaging was good to excellent throughout the series.

Their lineout wobbled a bit but was fixed and flowing by the final encounter and their collision work was mostly good with periods in Wellington that weren't.

No problems then in the art of winning the ball and setting a platform for the backs to do their thing.

The problem area all series was finding a way through a brilliantly organised Lions defence. The backs struggled to work their magic.

The linespeed of the Lions in tests two and three got to them at times, but that's not reason to start believing the All Blacks are in terminal decline.

It's reason to congratulate the Lions and say well done and then also to think a young, inexperienced All Blacks backline will be better for the experience of having faced it.

The All Blacks may not have achieved what they wanted but they weren't so far off either.

They opened the Lions up often enough in the third test to have it won by halftime but didn't stick the last pass.

Annoying, disappointing and not like them, yes, but fixable. Easily fixable and having faced such a good opponent three weeks in a row, the intensity of competition and the questions asked by the Lions ended up being the perfect preparation.

As Hansen said, he wants his team to encounter some adversity. He wants them to face difficulty, confront it and learn from it because there is no other way to improve.

They also had to face it without Coles, Smith, Crotty and Williams - all of whom are expected to be back in time for the Rugby Championship.

"What's been really positive for us is that we have introduced two 20-year-olds and another couple of young backs and I thought we played some positive rugby last night.

"From a long term perspective it has been good for us because it has put us under a bit of pressure and adversity and we have to deal with that mentally as a group. There are plenty of positives."