Hurting and humbled, defeat to the Springboks will unearth true perspective for the All Blacks.
Another late Queensland escape, hot on the heels of Jordie Barrett's match-winner last week, would have offered a false dawn; a sense the All Blacks are better than they are at this juncture.
Knocking off the world champions twice in as many weeks to emerge undefeated through the Rugby Championship would have painted the picture of a team with few flaws when, in fact, many areas require substantial attention.
Victories have the ability to inflate egos, to skew cause and effect. As they reflect over the next two weeks, before embarking on a testing five-match northern tour, the All Blacks will be better for falling short.
Introspection will be more genuine, the quest for improvement greater, for being pipped at the death on the Gold Coast.
In his second year at the helm Ian Foster has instigated shifts and built depth with the All Blacks compared to last year's 50 per cent win record - yet many issues remain.
Locking away the Bledisloe Cup with a 3-0 sweep – a feat more laudable in retrospect of the Wallabies' twin wins against the Boks – and the Rugby Championship title deserves significant recognition, particularly in the climate of being forced away from families and largely confined to hotels.
The Boks, despite their impressive final push, finished third with a 3-3 record. Consider for a moment the reaction had Foster delivered those returns.
Argentina's demise aside, this was an extremely competitive tournament and the All Blacks finished comfortably on top, seven points clear of the Wallabies.
The other element that cannot be overlooked is the fine margins between the All Blacks and Springboks, the world's highest ranked teams.
Only once in their past seven tests – four of which the All Blacks won – were the great foes separated by more than two points. That astonishing run, dating back to the All Blacks' 25-24 win in Cape Town four years ago, typifies the gripping rivalry that evokes pinnacle performances from two proud nations.
Saturday night's latest edition was a classic, engrossing test of character and skill. And while the Boks' dour tactics the previous week diminished the 100th test spectacle in Townsville, both matches could have gone either way.
Reviewing Saturday's tape will present familiar issues for the All Blacks to confront.
The adage that it starts and finishes up front is never truer than against the Boks.
There's little doubt the All Blacks made strides from test one to two in countering the Boks defensive line speed, high ball barrage and physical onslaught at the breakdown.
But much work remains in these areas, and the continued shaky lineout that lost seven throws in two weeks, for the All Blacks to profess confidence they can truly negate such strengths - imposed by the likes of England and France, too – on any given day.
Perhaps the greatest concern for Foster, other than the set piece malfunctions, is the way the Boks recovered from trailing 20-11 in the first half to display superior composure on multiple occasions. They were helped by referee Mathew Carley failing to identify the Boks not rolling away after making tackles, which enabled them to win a string of breakdown penalties. Nevertheless, after counter punching with two brilliant tries in the first half, the All Blacks attack was suffocated in the second spell.
Beauden Barrett, after orchestrating Sevu Reece and Ardie Savea's tries, booting the ball well out on the full from inside his 22 while attempting a cross-field kick speaks to the relentless pressure the All Blacks were consumed by. The anticipated injection from the All Blacks bench didn't arrive as expected, either, with the Boks gaining greater impetus from their replacements.
Welcoming Sam Whitelock back into the fold for the northern tour will help amend the lineout problems. His presence, and that of Sam Cane and Dane Coles, will also enhance leadership and therefore composure.
Having used four captains this year – Whitelock, Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick and Ardie Savea – and expanded their leadership group, the All Blacks have grown their collective decision-making experience, which should pay off in time.
Now, though, Foster faces several first-choice selection challenges. Where the start of the Rugby Championship brought a certainty to the All Blacks' best line-up, that picture is muddled.
While the next five tests against the USA, Wales, Ireland, Italy and France offer chances to rotate, Foster will be forced to ponder whether Akira Ioane remains his favoured blindside; the best wing combination, Brad Weber's compelling case to start the big tests at halfback, why the midfield struggled for penetration against the Boks, and if he can afford to carry Damian McKenzie in a match-day squad featuring Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga.
Managing the renewed Barrett-Mo'unga conundrum alone will be difficult.
In some respects, these are welcome headaches but the Boks showed the benefits of knowing your first-choice team and sticking to it.
When they head north the All Blacks can expect to confront similar styles to the Boks. Ireland and France will note South Africa's success, and attempt to emulate their pressure tactics.
The title cabinet is full but successive tests against the world champions leaves plenty to prove in the All Blacks' stated quest to again set standards and be regarded as the game's elite side.