It was Martin Luther King Jnr who said not to judge a man in times of comfort and convenience but to instead reserve it for when he is facing a challenge or controversy.

It's an apt thought for rugby-loving New Zealanders to have in mind as the All Blacks prepare for their clash with Ireland in Dublin next weekend.

As the All Blacks swept through the June series and the Rugby Championship, they appeared to be a team without flaw, a near impregnable force that had many wondering whether they were shaping as the greatest side in history. But these were the times of comfort and convenience.

Losing to Ireland in Chicago last weekend has created the challenge this All Blacks side needed to properly demonstrate what they are really all about. How they respond next weekend will be telling. It will be instrumental in revealing how well set up this All Blacks team are mentally and tactically.


And it will be the biggest test of Kieran Read's captaincy to date. The defeat in Chicago was the first on his watch. It was the first genuinely poor performance since the loss to Australia in 2015 and, however much the litany of mistakes were forced by Irish pressure, the All Blacks know they produced an opening 40 minutes that was passive, reactive and almost shambolic.

The bulk of the players involved in the Soldier Field defeat didn't play against Italy this morning. Instead, they had a week to train and simmer while they reviewed their failings.

They will use the coming week in Dublin to do more of that while also analysing just how the Irish managed to outplay them. By Sunday morning (NZT) they will need to have all the answers.

It will be Read's job to ensure all the hard work, soul searching and emotion are packaged into a cohesive performance. The All Blacks will be under more pressure than they have been at any other time this season and, while all 23 picked will have a role to play, this is a game when the All Blacks will need their captain leading from the front.

His voice will need to be loud, his defence, which at times this year has been thunderous and intimidating, needs to be defining and his actions need to be bold, decisive and accurate. And with 60,000 screaming Irish in the crowd, Read will need to instil calm and clear heads among his team.

"It is a big test for us," he admits. "We haven't been in that position where we have played the team that we have lost to and then played them again. From our point of view, there is a lot of emotion and I know a lot of the guys are pretty keen to get back out there and play the Irish.

"What we can't think will happen is that if we just rock up with the intensity and the emotion then that will take care of the result. There is a bit more to last week [the loss] than just that so we will plan well and prepare as well as we can.

"There will be a little bit of edge to the guys, so we will just keep looking at what we need to do. The Irish are going to be expecting a game from us so we will have to deliver a performance that we are happy with."

Losing a test after a world record 18 consecutive victories was always going to feel like a bigger deal than it really was. The perceived magnitude of the defeat was further distorted because, in 111 years of trying, Ireland had never previously beaten the All Blacks.

Read has had to keep things in perspective. The All Blacks didn't become a bad team overnight, they didn't lose their ability to play breathtaking rugby and beat teams up physically.

They simply had a bad day. It happens. No matter how well they plan and prepare before a test, no matter how fit, strong and skilled they are, they are still human and the magic of sport is that it can defy logic.

A big part of Read's role in the build up will be to help his players work out which elements of the defeat have substance and long-term value.

"I look back over my time and a loss means you really get out that microscope and twist it right up to how many degrees you need to, to see what the problem is," he says.

"You think you can keep going without a loss, but a loss was going to happen and some guys will learn great lessons. For us, the big lesson is that on an individual level you should have so much pride in what you do and what the team does that it shouldn't come down to a loss.

"It should come down to if we play at our best, perform at our level and lose, sweet. But when you perhaps don't do what you want to do and we don't have a performance that we are happy with, those are the ones that hurt."

Reading between the lines, Read doesn't believe his team played well in Chicago. He doesn't want to take away from Ireland's performance but he knows the All Blacks let themselves be dominated and, from there, the pressure built.

They can't allow that to happen in Dublin and what's partly giving him some confidence is the way the team fought back from 30-8 to get to 33-29 with 15 minutes remaining.

That period when the All Blacks were charging was evidence the decision-making was good under pressure. Whatever problems the All Blacks experienced in the first half, they found a way through most of them in the second.

"I have reviewed, definitely," he says on his role as captain. "I felt I did a pretty good job. There were points when I needed to be pretty straight up with guys when things weren't happening and I also know that when we are in a state of calm, thinking clearly, it is best for us."

And when the All Blacks stay on task, that's arguably when Read's captaincy is at its strongest. He has shown over the years he's an astute judge of when to be aggressive and take the odd risk.

That's probably his best attribute as a skipper, that innate ability to take the pulse of the opposition and determine where they are mentally and physically.

Ideally, he'd love the All Blacks to play well from the outset in Dublin for him to show he can be an aggressive game manager.

"You can sense a team and how momentum is going in games," he says. "Maybe watching, you don't get the same sense of when you are on top of a team but when you are out there in the middle you can see that, perhaps if you hold on to the ball for another minute in the opposition 22, there is a chance you could break them. It is all calculated risk and you think the game is heading that way where a try has become that much more important the way teams attack."