By Liam Napier in South Africa
White River sits on the outskirts of Mbombela, formerly Nelspruit, in South Africa's northeast lowveld. Locals casually wander the roads, cars evading their presence. Fruit stalls line the streets. Surrounded by vast citrus trees and rolling rural countryside near the gateway to Kruger National Park it is here, at the Ingwenyama Conference and Sport Resort, the All Blacks have taken shelter from the brewing storm.
Hibernated in an isolated cocoon, the All Blacks will hope to emulate a caterpillar shedding its shell. They certainly need a metamorphosis-like transformation as successive tests against the formidable Springboks loom.
As they search for solutions to their struggles, following four losses from their past five tests, the All Blacks have largely blockaded themselves from the outside world for the majority of this week.
Separated from other guests by barriers and patrolling security, the resort's onsite training field and gym facilities used by Chile during the 2010 Football World Cup form the backdrop of a team under siege.
Media interactions and, by extension, those with the New Zealand public have been cut to the bare minimum. Other than travelling to Mbombela Stadium for a brief squiz on Friday, the All Blacks' only venture beyond the barricades was their mid-week day off excursions to Kruger, a wild Rhino Sanctuary or golf.
With their head coach's job on the line, the All Blacks are fastidiously cramming for the Boks.
Whether that amounts to a revival will be revealed on Sunday morning.
Despite their escape to the wilderness mounting pressure to deliver results maintains lingering tension. Ian Foster and his team are well aware of the challenge at hand, the ramifications at play, and the need to use that as fuel.
"I wouldn't use the word angst, no," Foster said of the mood in camp. "We don't like losing just like everyone. That always creates an edge in the group and a lot of reflection from our players. They're looking at their own roles and performances and how we can grow.
"You dovetail that with where we are and who we're playing against and there's quite a great concoction there isn't it? It's a clear challenge for us, we're excited by it, we want to play better but we also know we've probably never been a great July team and it's the start of our year – just like it is for the South Africans."
Culling forwards coach John Plumtree and attack mentor Brad Mooar after the Irish series laid bare the ruthless nature of professional sport, and the legacy the All Blacks are expected to uphold.
Changes in the form of Crusaders forwards guru Jason Ryan and Foster assuming the attacking brief are now immediately injected into the spotlight.
"It's a change made for a reason," Foster said. "Change is never comfortable but we felt it was the right change for the team. I think the week has gone well so overall delighted with the response. Jason has fitted in extremely well. He's got an existing relationship with some of the players. He's had a pretty narrow focus but he's gone about his work well.
"Much is made of the last series. We were in the process of putting blocks in place. Did we get everything right? No, we didn't but we've still got a lot of faith in the areas we want to grow our game.
"There are definitely some tweaks in the attack area we're working on. Some of them are just highlighting some focus points in our game I don't think we got right in the last series. It's not a matter of bringing in 10 new things. It's probably a matter of bringing a couple in and honing two or three that we wanted to do anyway but didn't do that well."
With the intense attention on the All Blacks, the Springboks have been largely overlooked. A sense of confidence bordering on arrogance emanates from former South African captains Jean de Villiers, Victor Matfield and Joel Stransky this week – all suggesting the Boks should secure a comfortable 2-0 sweep.
Those views are hardly surprising but if any such complacency infiltrates the Boks that would be foolish. If there is one foe the All Blacks always rise for, it is the Boks.
This mini series evokes fascination for many reasons, not least because it is four years since the All Blacks last ventured to South Africa. That length of time, and South Africa's absence from Super Rugby, leaves the nagging sense that New Zealand's elite players are much less equipped than their predecessors to confront the onslaught that awaits.
The traditional strength the Boks pose is evident in their vaunted 'bomb squad' - their 6/2 forward split on the bench that continues the relentless waves of physicality for the full 80 minutes. With the Boks set to be spurred on by 48,000 hostile locals, Scott Barrett knows the crucial role the revamped All Blacks bench must play.
"They've used that impact pretty well in the last two or three years," Barrett said. "We know how much our bench can bring that impact as well. Particularly they target big moments in the second half around the set piece to try to get back into the game or close out a game using those strengths of their game. Our bench as well as our starters are aware that we have to start well and keep it right on them."
Mbombela Stadium's intimidating atmosphere promises to be a world away from the sanctuary of the White River resort. The sounds of nature will be replaced by Castle-filled South Africans baying for blood.
Will the momentary seclusion and serenity inspire the All Blacks to an upset triumph?
In the fraught circumstances, such a scenario would rank among their most unlikely successes on foreign soil.