COMMENT

By Gregor Paul in Rome

A defeat against South Africa, a draw with the Wallabies and another dramatic Bledisloe win that came in the 82nd minute, a narrow victory against England at Twickenham, an unconvincing June series and two late, edgy victories on the Northern tour against Scotland and Wales.

That's the All Blacks 2014 season in summary and it doesn't make particularly compelling reading.

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For those who have obviously forgotten, the All Blacks were in a significantly more perilous state in 2014 – a year out from the 2015 World Cup – than they are now, 12 months away from the 2019 version.

The year before the last World Cup the All Blacks weren't particularly impressive or convincing. They had problems converting opportunities.

They had difficulties against rush defences. They struggled to bed in some subtle tweaks to their game and they had an air of vulnerability about them.

They needed a late, late try to beat England in the first test of the year in a game to forget.

They were on the ropes in the second test and saved from going 17-3 down at half-time by a miraculous piece of covering by Ben Smith who caught Manu Tuilagi who had picked up a loose ball and run free, and somehow managed to win the ball back in the tackle and force a penalty.

The test against the Boks in Wellington went to the wire – the All Blacks edging home 14-9 and then that was after they had salvaged a draw in Sydney in what was at that time, the worst performance of the Hansen era.

The Boks were too good for them at Ellis Park and Australia outplayed them in Brisbane for 76 minutes but Malakai Fekitoa was able to barge over on the whistle and Colin Slade slotted the conversion.

The All Blacks needed a bit of luck to win a few games that year and know they could easily have lost two more tests, if not three and possibly even four.

It was a year that also saw Richie McCaw come under scrutiny for the first time in his career.

He played against England in June with broken ribs and missed a prominent tackle and the naysayers were at him – saying at 34 he was too old, past it and going to be horribly exposed at the World Cup.

The All Blacks also decided at the back end of the year to experiment with twin play-makers using various combinations of Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden and Slade at various times.

The parallels with then and now are many and striking and yet there is an air of panic and foreboding in 2018 that never reared its head four years ago.

It is pointless trying to determine whether the 2014 crew were in better shape at the corresponding stage in the cycle when compared with the current team, but it should be acknowledged that their respective results and performances were similar enough to make it silly to be panicking now when no one worried back then.

In fact, if anything, the 2018 team have a stronger and more effective ability to strike from turnovers and are a better unstructured football team then the 2014 version.

They don't kick with the same strategic prowess as the 2014 team, but their scrummaging is probably better and their lineout work equally good.

"Coaching groups are always impatient and we want to get there straight away but we have been around for long enough to know that some things you have just got to keep chipping away at," said All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster.

"Overall when you look through the flow of the year we are actually pretty happy about where we have got to. We are clearly disappointed with our last performance but that doesn't change the fact there are parts of our game that are going really, really well and there are some we obviously didn't do well.

"So we will take that on the chin and go away and figure out how to do them better.

"There is always a lot of panic around us when we drop a game which is to be expected. It has happened before and it will happen again our challenge is to make sure that we pick the good things part of it and learn from the parts that didn't go so well."