Having set sights on capturing another Rugby Championship grand slam, All Blacks coach Ian Foster was gutted that achievement slipped through his side's grasp in the dying moments on the Gold Coast.
There was, however, enough in the engrossing 31-29 defeat to the world champion Springboks for Foster to believe the All Blacks will learn and grow from their failings.
While the All Blacks' nine-match unbeaten run, and brief return to No 1 in the world rankings, was halted by Elton Jantjies' 83rd-minute penalty on Saturday night, Foster felt the last two weeks would prove hugely valuable for his budding team that's missing Aaron Smith, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane and Dane Coles.
Splitting the ledger 1-1 with the Boks, who finished third in the Rugby Championship with a 3-3 record, fairly reflects the typically tense state of the great rivalry.
"We are bitterly disappointed," Foster said. "It's frustrating when you've got control of it but it was a massive arm-wrestle. The South Africans played superbly. They came with a lot of attitude; they carried hard, they moved us around and challenged us in many ways. They had a really strong third quarter and got us a bit flustered.
"I loved the way we hung in there. We took some great opportunities early in the game and got ourselves back into a winning position but then lacked a little bit of discipline in that last two minutes. That's what big tests are about.
"It just shows we've got a little bit of learning to do but I'm intensely proud of a campaign that we've taken one big step forward but we've got a few more to take.
"I've got no doubt we've grown considerably. I'm very proud of the way the guys have handled the last five to six weeks."
After absorbing relentless pressure in the first half, and being caught somewhat off-guard by the Boks willingness to use the ball, the All Blacks responded with three rapid tries to lead 20-11.
The Boks gradually eroded that advantage, though, by turning up the heat at the set-piece and breakdown, where referee Matthew Carley overlooked their inability to roll away after making the tackle.
Jordie Barrett continued his clutch form to nail two late penalties, only for Jantjies to pinch his hero status with a drop goal and the final match-winning penalty to steal victory for the Boks that snapped their three-match losing run.
At lineout time especially the All Blacks clearly missed Whitelock's influential presence. Despite desperate efforts the All Blacks lost their way with ball in hand in the second half after creating two superb tries to Sevu Reece and Ardie Savea in the first spell. Brad Weber pinched the third after a Scott Barrett lineout steal on the Boks line.
"We muddled around a little bit," Foster said. "They came at us with their set-piece and we hung tough but in that last quarter we struggled to play with the ball in their half. That was the area I thought we got frustrated and didn't have quite the direction we needed to so we'll go and have a look at that.
"The South Africans threw everything at us and probably played their best game in many ways to turn it into one of those traditional tests over the last four years where a lot of them seem to go down to the last few minutes.
"We've got a tight group that's excited about growing. We approached these last two tests as a chance to test ourselves against a foe that we know plays a style that can suffocate you and we got some good lessons out of that. We showed we can deal with that, but we also showed we need to deal with it for longer periods."
In a beaten side, stand-in All Blacks captain Ardie Savea delivered an immense display. He was left frustrated by Carley's interpretation of the breakdown but admitted the Boks exposed the All Blacks to leave them with plenty to improve.
"I have my own opinion but it's the referees' call at the end of the day," Savea said. "I wish I could go back and change the calls but he made his decisions and we just had to adapt. We were well aware around the breakdown of staying on our feet but we didn't execute that skill in the last couple of minutes. We've got to take the referee out of the game and we didn't tonight.
"We're probably not where we want to be in terms of our game and how we want to play. Africa showed that and put us under pressure. The biggest learning is working on the areas we need to and moving forward."
With two weeks off before starting their five-match northern tour in Washington DC, the All Blacks now have ample time to ponder those improvements.