When the All Blacks were sitting on a 50 per cent win ratio last year, there was no sense of catharsis looming.

There was only a foreboding sense of the All Blacks having followed the wrong track. They struggled to kick and catch; their aerial skills were lacking and their scrimmaging was iffy.

The obsession with the power athlete and the incessant desire to pass and run had seemingly stunted the All Blacks' tactical growth.

The Boks had picked the game for what it was; had struck on a game plan all about basic skills being executed to the highest order and taking the points any way they came.

As hard as it was to stomach back then, the 3-0 blitzing by the Boks last year was the making of this All Black side. In their darkest hour, they were forced down a different path and the All Blacks of 2010 would not be the side they are now had it not been for the pain of 2009.

The glaring deficiencies in their game had to be addressed. No one was immune - not even Richie McCaw, nor Dan Carter, nor the coaches.

As much as he hated it, McCaw had to learn how to attack the ball in the air. He hated it because most of the 80 minutes could be spent virtually standing still, watching the aerial ping-pong play out. To get involved, he had to be able to time his run, get off the ground and challenge for the ball.

Carter had to work on his kicking repertoire. He had the length and range; he needed to improve his tactical implementation. He had to better judge when to bang the ball long and when to stick it high and give his players the chance to retrieve.

The coaching panel had to re-evaluate their selection templates and the emphasis they placed on basic skills.

Bigger still were the questions they had to ask about their tactical appreciation - could they plot a way through a game they didn't like and were no longer sure they understood?

By the end of next year, when inevitably the full World Cup cycle is reviewed, when the four years since the debacle of 2007 are combed over in frightening detail, the mid-point of 2009 will be the period of most interest.

It took character for the All Blacks to rebuild the way they have. Egos were dented in the process, in some cases in a major way.

Take Joe Rokocoko, a 60- test All Black closing in on the all time try-scoring record. His career, once without blemish, was suddenly on the line. He was sent back to remedial class to learn basic catching skills.

"I had to change," says Rokocoko. "The game had changed and I had to work on those skills. That has really benefited me."

He wasn't the only one. Every aspiring test wing and fullback now spends hours each week catching high kicks. The improvement in basic techniques, in success levels, was obvious throughout Super 14.

The security of the back three was integral to the Eden Park victory. The Boks got nothing from a strategy at the core of their success last year. Nor did they get anything from Morne Steyn's towering kickoffs.

Last year, the All Blacks were frequently sloppy at securing kickoffs - immediately handing the ball back after scoring points. Again, the work in this area has been relentless, with Tom Donnelly doing much to raise standards as he has at the lineout.

Victor Matfield's annihilation of the All Black lineout in Hamilton just about shattered everyone's faith.

The keys to recovery were relatively simple - the All Blacks reach the lineout now with the call, if not already made, then certainly well considered. They don't move around on the ground much and they are no longer so reluctant to throw to No 2 - any possession is better than lost possession.

The process is quicker, it's less convoluted and it's also more aggressive with a willingness to jump on opposition ball. That did not happen in the early part of 2009.

One of the less appreciated improvements has been the technical advances made at the cleanout. The speed of the All Blacks' possession is critical to the tempo they want to play at. When they recycle so quickly, defences are left scrambling. They were superb at delivering quick, clean ball at Eden Park, and, again, that has been a targeted improvement.

"We have been working on our accuracy at the cleanout," said Kieran Read after the game. "It's something we have talked about and something we have been working on.

"You have to make sure you are hitting your targets and also that you have the right technique to be effective."

Whatever else happens this season, the All Blacks have shown they have taken giant steps in their basic skills.

They are not the same vulnerable unit they were 12 months ago. The shellacking of last year has been the making of them. They have become a more complete team as a result. They have become a more realistic contender to win the World Cup as a result.

Now they can play rugby almost any way they like. If it's wet, if the South Africans or English are raining down the bombs, trying to put the squeeze on in the scrums or trying to assert their dominance from the touchline, the All Blacks have the game to stand up now.

They can play tight, grinding rugby if they have to. They can play kick and rush if they have to and they can defend kick and rush.

If anyone is game enough, maybe the Australians, to take them on at tempo rugby, then good luck. When the space opens up and fatigue enters the contest, this All Black side is in its element.

That's what they want. They want opponents to take risks, to push passes and create opportunities to turn defence into attack; to open the prospect of Carter running at a broken defence as he did in Dunedin against the Welsh to such devastating effect.

"The other thing that pleased me, and was a big part of the test, was how you maintained your self-belief when you were put under pressure," said assistant coach Steve Hansen after the Eden Park test.

"This team showed that, at times, when they were put under pressure, they kept their self-belief and actually took that pressure and applied it to the opposition and asked questions of them."

The victory at Eden Park was the 10th consecutive win for the All Blacks. From that, they have taken belief that there is no reason for them to be scared of exposure any more - they have the basic skills in place now to feel confident they can handle any sort of rugby thrown at them.