An extended off-season has given team the chance to condition properly.

The first game of the season has historically been more miss than hit for the All Blacks in terms of performance, but this year's side have generated considerable optimism they are going to be a little different.

The presiding theme in Super Rugby has been the superior and at times scarcely believable skill levels of the New Zealand teams. The pace at which they have played, the relentless intensity, cohesion and accuracy has created a they are from Venus, everyone else from Mars scenario.

Super Rugby is notoriously prone to being a shonky guide to test football outcomes, of course, but there has been 16 weeks of this unwavering excellence and that's too hard to ignore.

There's always got to be caution when it comes to assessing the potential of any new All Blacks side, but if there was a time to be a little loose, reckless even with the belief, it's probably now.


An almost perfect storm has whipped the nation's best players into a curiously good place. It's a rarity for so many players to have reached June in unquestionably good form. Trawl through the names and there's perhaps only a couple, Ryan Crotty and Julian Savea, who for one reason or another, haven't been able to play, consistently, at the level they would have liked.

The rest have been sharp, influential and at times inspirational. Dane Coles has been almost ludicrously effective. Kieran Read has built steadily, hurting a few stray runners with his tackling and getting back into that expressive mode with the ball. Aaron Cruden has played with a decisiveness and certainty that says he likes the idea of being the preferred No10 and Ben Smith has been himself - immaculate, creative, resourceful, brave and willing.

The bedrock of this blanket form is the extended off-season the squad enjoyed. Those who must often feel they sound like a broken record harping on about the length and structure of the season have had their point emphatically proven - give the players time to rest and condition properly and the rugby that follows is spectacularly good.

There's more to it than, that, though. This is a side full of men who have waited. It's a team full of players who played a part in establishing the All Blacks as the most dominant team in history between 2012 and 2015, and yet they are eager to write a new chapter that they feel they will be able to call their own.

It's about ownership of legacy and the chance for a new generation of players to do what the group before them did and leave the jersey in better shape than they found it.

It's not going to be easy to surpass the achievements of the last four years or consistently play the same quality of rugby. But there's an inkling on the eve of the test season, this team could be about to stun the world with the pace, simplicity and fluidity of their rugby.

The pack has set piece excellence and ball players. All of them, from one to eight, can pass and catch and Coles and Read in particular have x-factor skills. There's also a bloke called Ardie Savea sitting on the bench and he may be someone everyone is talking about for the rest of the year.

Aaron Smith and Cruden have the individual skills and combined tactical nous to make sure the game plan hangs together and if they can make just a fraction of space for Savea and Waisake Naholo, the results could be devastating.


This team has the conditioning, the basic skills, the creative talents, the raw pace, power and technical excellence to play superior rugby to that which won the All Blacks the World Cup.

There's more weaponry to utilise - more ball carriers, line breakers and perhaps most crucially, more offloaders. Continuity is the big thing in modern rugby and the statistic that separated the north from the south at the World Cup was the number of times the latter teams were able to play the ball out of the tackle.

The unknown is how the All Blacks plan to stitch it all together: how they envisage the mix of pass, run and kick. This is a big unknown as while there is more pace, more energy and more dynamism across the team than there was last year, the depth of leadership and experience isn't the same.

Will Cruden have the same calm and poise as Daniel Carter and kick his goals with the same metronomic accuracy? Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith made so much happen simply by understanding the game and each other and then there is the Richie McCaw factor.

The best and most inspirational leader the game has known. Take him out and there has to be some impact and this is the knife-edge on which the 2016 team sits: they have all the potential to be something extraordinary yet they could just as easily find themselves scrambling to beat Wales.

The full extent of which path they are most likely to follow won't necessarily become obvious at Eden Park.

"That would be unrealistic first game up in the season," says All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. "What we have got to nail this week is getting our core roles right and bringing an intensity that comes from understanding what we are trying to do.

"We are trying to keep it really simple, really clear and get that clarity that this is what I have to do and therefore bring the intensity that comes with having that clarity of thought. As the season goes on we will start to develop a game that might look a little different to the one we started with."

The evolution will be fascinating.