The holes that France found, the lack of possession, the troubles keeping it and the higher than wished for penalty count are all potential sticks with which to beat the All Blacks.

Their kicking game wasn't great either and that can be added to the list of things that could be used to mount a case that the All Blacks were slipping down in gear rather than up in the last five weeks of the year.

The battles they had with Ireland and France could be seen as a potential source of concern about what lies ahead for the All Blacks.

That's one way to see the season. But the alternative is fairer, more realistic and much more generous in its assessment of the merits of both Ireland and France.


The alternative view is that the All Blacks had a great season - learning more about themselves in the last four weeks than they did in the first 10. The alternative view is that yes, they made too many mistakes in Dublin and Paris, gave too much ball away and lacked discipline - but they stayed calm, found a way through the pressure and won both tests.

Winning, now that's something that matters. Winning with style doesn't and the character required to dig in, scrap, scramble and somehow find a way to get the victory - that's a quality that only the best teams have.

Whatever anyone might say, fatigue becomes an issue in the last few weeks of any season. Players are the edge of their physical limits and they can't quite do what they were doing back in September. The sharpness has gone and the legs are missing just that little something.

The last four weeks are when teams are at their most vulnerable and the All Blacks showed their soft underbelly for long periods in Paris and in Dublin and neither France nor Ireland could jab the stick in.

The closeness of the games, the mistakes that were made by the All Blacks - these aren't a source of concern as such. They would have been had the All Blacks not been able to navigate their way through.

They would have been had the All Blacks obviously crumbled mentally, or gave up the ghost physically.

But all they showed was calm, poise and determination. Their discipline in Paris wasn't great, but it was when they were under siege near their own line.

They didn't play a lot of rugby, but they played enough. They were clinical when they had to be - scoring two miracle tries that were all about vision and awareness.

TJ Perenara summed it all when he said: "We have got a few guys who have been there a lot of times and the likes of Reado [Kieran Read] were talking, they weren't quiet and they did a lot of talking. If you can have integrity in your defensive line then it goes a long way to building confidence.

"I don't know the stats but I would say they had a lot of the ball in the first half and we made a lot of tackles. Yes we didn't have much ball but we only conceded six points in the half.

"I think when you have been in moments similar to that you can fall on that, you have been there and you can take a lot from certain situations. We knew the French were going to offload the ball. That is what a test match is for - you are put under pressure, you are put into situations where you might not be used to and it is how you react to that you get the biggest gains."