A perfect year of results - 14 from 14 - all done while missing, variously, Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith. Kieran Read scooped the International Rugby Board player of the year award, Steve Hansen coach of the year.

Reasons for All Blacks supporters to be cheerful - more than 14 - and yet while there won't be a pebble under Hansen's beach towel this summer, there will be issues to mull over.

He might not have time to linger over that paperback by the pool, impending marriage notwithstanding. Chief among those are workload and fatigue. The All Blacks recorded victories over France, England and Ireland in the Northern Hemisphere, but all three tests were in the balance. In Paris, a shakier final scrum on the All Blacks' line could have resulted in a drawn test; at Twickenham, Sam Whitelock's lineout steal and Ma'a Nonu's delicate pass for Julian Savea's try helped the visitors to an eight-point margin; in Dublin, the All Blacks' ability to go side to side - and up the middle - without knocking the ball on, plus Aaron Cruden's nerves of steel salvaged victory from the jaws of defeat.

At the end of a long year, the All Blacks' performances began to drop - no real surprise there - but the task for Hansen and his fellow coaches is to try to ensure that doesn't happen again.


It might not be disastrous next year, but it would be the year after at the World Cup - the tournament held in the United Kingdom in September and October.

All Black supporters should reflect with pride over their team's performances this season. Some of them were extremely memorable - the twin victories over South Africa, the only losses by the Boks this year - the many high points of the Bledisloe Cup sweep, but such is the desire for constant improvement by Hansen and co that it's not difficult to find areas of improvement.

Have the All Blacks got the balance right with regards to their increasingly demanding sponsors adidas and AIG?

As Hansen says, the New Zealand public are incredibly demanding of the All Blacks, but not as demanding as the team itself.