Losing, suffering major setbacks. These are largely foreign concepts for the All Blacks. They have grown accustomed to emerging on top no matter the circumstance.

Successive World Cup crowns crystallised such a mentality - until the British and Irish Lions arrived.

That is what makes this Rugby Championship so intriguing. Set against the backdrop of a drawn Lions series, one we might as well term defeat from New Zealand's perspective, this group now has something to prove.

More than one month on, with the dust now settled, the All Blacks know they blew several chances to put away the Lions.


"Clearly we wanted to win the series and when you reflect back on it we didn't help ourselves; we didn't play enough rugby," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "We did some stuff in our preparation which we thought would benefit us which in hindsight didn't."

Sonny Bill Williams' red card - the All Blacks' first in 50 years - sure didn't help, either. This group didn't cope with the pointy end particularly well. Even in challenging conditions they were too conservative; too reticent to back their inherent attacking skills when space presented.

"We went into our shells rather than standing up and being strong and saying 'we can do this with 14 men'. You sit back and think that's probably one that got away. At 18-9 with 15 minutes to go, we were in control."

In the decider at Eden Park, the All Blacks then bombed three dead-set try-scoring chances to put themselves in a late hole when French referee Romain Poite froze on the big stage. Rather than blame others, the All Blacks now feel they were too individualistic in their approach, something we've seen previously when the stakes are so high.

"It was a little reminiscent of what happened in 2007 in France. Guys were playing well enough but they were doing it as individuals rather than as a collective group. That's what pressure does to you and we'll come away from that a better rugby side."

The intent is now to ensure that widespread frustration is not for nothing; that the disappointment is absorbed and channeled.

Prior to the 2015 World Cup, the leadership group had guided the All Blacks through epic comebacks which culminated in unprecedented success. You can't teach that experience. This group lacked their dark times - they had Chicago and not much else - but now has its share.

The Lions were no Rugby Championship, certainly not like the one the All Blacks waltzed through last year smashing records along the way as if things would carry on as normal without McCaw, Carter and co. No, the Lions delivered a dose of reality. The best of the best takes time to mould.

"Every rugby side has to have some form of adversity at some point in their DNA. This team had a pretty easy run in 2016 and is still really in its infancy."

Losing makes you ask questions that maybe aren't posed otherwise.

"It's the price you pay for being successful all the time. It's a subconscious thing. We try and work hard when we are successful but, eventually, you subconsciously take an easy option rather than working hard. And that's all of us. We've been very successful over a long time, and then when you get put under the pressure the Lions brought - we weren't used to it.

"Everyone will be thinking we're vulnerable because of the Lions series. If we don't fix those things we will be.

"It's now about going out and learning those lessons, growing from it, becoming stronger mentally and going back to what we do really well."

Starting this weekend in Sydney, that's executing skills with pace and power; banishing any self-doubt and never going into the attacking shell.

"At some point it will all come together. We've just got to keep working hard and not thinking we've arrived and keep acknowledging we've got talent and we've got to use it in the right way."

Despite the horror state of Australian rugby following their dire Super Rugby campaign and the axing of the Western Force, Michael Cheika has had plenty of time to devise a strategy and evoke some sort of response. There is also belief former All Blacks skills guru Mick Byrne should have some impact on the Wallabies decision-making.

"There's been a lot of infighting in Australia over their super sides. Rightly or wrongly they've made a decision and the Force have been identified as the one to go. That in itself may release some of the infighting pressure which will ignite them to be tighter and allow them to get on and play.

"Australia are desperate, aren't they? They need something positive for their game and for themselves. They are the one side over a long period of time who have been consistently able to put us under pressure. Whilst they haven't had a great deal of success of late they've still had some, and probably more than most teams.

"Regardless of what's been going on in their world I'm expecting the first two Bledisloe to be massive. That's exactly what we need right now as a team."