The first real shot has been fired in the 2019 All Blacks World Cup campaign, with the squad for Monday's training session named this week.
Spanish philosopher George Santayana wrote that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". The Cup in Japan will be the ninth since the tournament began in Auckland in 1987. What have Steve Hansen and Company, an astute and thoughtful group, already learned from the past, and what else might they consider?
1987 in New Zealand and Australia
All Blacks finish: Winners.
John Kirwan, who set the Cup and New Zealand alight with an 80m run for a try in the 70-6 win over Italy. He beats six defenders, using a swerve he's worked on over summer weaving in and out of trees at Cornwall Park, like a slalom skier.
Big lesson: Decide on your game plan first, then pick a team that can play it. "We knew we didn't have big enough forwards to foot it with the English, or the French, or the Australians," coach Brian Lochore would say, "so we had to use all our skills and rugby know-how."
1991 in Great Britain, Ireland and France
The man who wasn't there. The dropping of unbeaten captain Buck Shelford in 1990 was a symptom of the uncertainty that had crept into a divided selection panel, where co-coaches Alex "Grizz" Wyllie and John Hart, two Alpha males, were too often at loggerheads.
Big lesson: Don't get too cocky. "We didn't work as hard away from team training as we did in '87," Auckland midfielder Bernie McCahill would tell me years later. "The team in '91 wasn't a patch on the '87 side for work ethic. We got lazy."
1995 in South Africa
Jonah Lomu, who was so stunning on the wing, Rupert Murdoch, watching the World Cup on TV in New York, rang his television rights offsider Sam Chisholm in London and said, "Get me that big guy", possibly in more colourful language than that.
Big lesson: Good ideas don't just come from the men in charge. At a team meeting in Queenstown, rookie flanker Josh Kronfeld, yet to play a test at that stage, suggested that while using runners off the ruck to break the advantage line was "the safest option, it's not the only one". Coach Laurie Mains agrees, but only if the team signs on for a training regime so brutal that at a four-day camp in Taupo before the Cup, senior players such as Mike Brewer were scared to eat a solid meal at lunchtime in case it was going to be deposited on the training track in the afternoon.
Footnote: The 1995 final remains the most extraordinary in Cup history, from Nelson Mandela in Francois Pienaar's No6 Springboks jersey, to the extra time 15-12 victory for South Africa. For the All Blacks, it's not an excuse, but a fact, that nine of the starting 15 had been ill in the two days before the game. Manager Colin Meads would wonder for the rest of his life whether he should have asked for a postponement. I'd rate the '95 team as being as good as any we've sent to the Cup.
1999 in Great Britain, Ireland and France
Christian Cullen. The best fullback in world rugby was moved to centre, a reflection of how confused thinking had became after a horror run of five successive test losses in 1998.
Big lesson: You need an experienced leader. In 2014, Taine Randell, the captain in '98, told me: "I just wasn't mature enough [to be the captain]. I've talked about it since with my wife, Jo, who was my girlfriend at the time. We were just babes in arms. We had no idea. I was only 23. It was nobody's fault. I was one of the most experienced forwards in the team."
2003 in Australia
Tana Umaga. All Blacks doctor John Mayhew had told coach John Mitchell there was no medical reason why Umaga, who had suffered a knee injury but had recovered, couldn't play at centre in the semifinal against Australia. Mitchell and Robbie Deans decided Umaga wouldn't have the match fitness needed, so instead of punting on a young Ma'a Nonu, they stayed with Leon MacDonald, who had gone from fullback to centre. MacDonald was a great rugby player but he could never give the backline the punch Umaga did. It wasn't the reason the All Blacks lost the semifinal 22-10 but didn't help.
Big lesson: Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith and select a player who may not be 100 per cent fit.
2007 in France, Walesand Scotland
Finish: Lost in quarter-finals.
Dan Carter and Nick Evans. In the quarter-final against France in Cardiff, the All Blacks lost Carter to injury on the stroke of halftime, and his replacement, Evans, 10 minutes from fulltime. Down just 20-18, there was nobody with a cool head at first-five in the dying stages to take control and drop a goal for the win.
Big lesson: Don't get too cocky, Part II. "I think," Steve Hansen said just before his 2015 squad travelled to London, "that [in 2007] we rocked up a little arrogant possibly, like previous All Blacks teams over the years may have. We were too comfortable, and just expected it to happen."
2011 in New Zealand
Richie McCaw, who played the tournament with a foot so damaged, he could never risk taking his boot off at halftime for fear of his foot having swollen so much, he wouldn't get it on again. His mature, mentally fearless attitude was summed up when, after a scary, nerve-stretching, stomach-churning, 8-7 win over France in the final, he said to coach Graham Henry, "the last 30 minutes were the best 30 minutes of my life".
Big lesson: Build depth leading to the Cup. When first-fives became an endangered species, with Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden all injured, on came Stephen Donald. He may have been called in from a whitebaiting holiday, but he ran on to Eden Park for the last 47 minutes of the final with 22 previous tests under his belt.
2015 in England and Wales
Richie McCaw. Fifteen years as an All Black, and he wasn't kidding when he said in the week before the final against Australia, won 34-17, that while he was "probably better organised now", he still retained the excitement he'd felt in his first All Blacks test in Dublin in 2001.
Big lesson: It's a massive advantage if you have a backbone of players who have been to the big show before but haven't become cynical or up themselves.