Kieran Read notes progress from Ian Foster's All Blacks this year but believes several areas, specifically the lineout and loose forward mix, must improve after last weekend's loss to the Springboks.
Read, fresh from running over 50km on the Old Ghost Road in Buller last weekend, has no plans to emerge from retirement despite joining former All Blacks coach Sir Steven Hansen in signing on as a World 12s ambassador, believing the budding three-week tournament can help align the global calendar and bring benefits to New Zealand Rugby.
Offering his view on the All Blacks, following their Rugby Championship-winning campaign, Read felt they made significant strides from last year and that lessons would be absorbed from tense tests against Springboks that finished with the teams scoring the same number of points and splitting results one apiece.
Not playing the world champions for two years, since the 2019 World Cup, exposed areas such as the breakdown the All Blacks must amend on their northern tour where they will confront similar suffocating styles.
"They've definitely improved their game across the board but you look at the last two tests against the Boks and it's a different challenge to what we've had in recent times," Read, the former All Blacks captain, said. "A team with that defensive mindset can stifle an attacking team - that's the reality of test rugby. That's the real big challenge, getting that mix right from the All Blacks' point of view."
During his 127 tests Read was an impressive lineout exponent. After watching the All Blacks lose seven throws in two tests against the Boks to squander prime attacking chances, he expects attention to come on this area.
"The Boks played a lot better in the second test because they actually used the ball a bit more. If they'd done that in the first test, they might've won. I don't think we played particularly well in those couple of games. Our scrum was solid, but our lineout didn't function quite as well and that's where we're going to have to improve a lot, especially against teams similar to that style."
The All Blacks loose forward mix remains highly competitive as injured captain Sam Cane prepares to re-join the team after making his comeback - following six months out - with King Country this weekend.
With Blues openside Dalton Papalii missing the Boks tests through injury, the All Blacks used Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane, Luke Jacobson and Ethan Blackadder in starting roles. Collectively Read felt they were beaten to the punch by the Boks, though he hailed Blackadder's debut test season.
"They've been reasonably strong but the South Africans maybe got the edge over them in a couple of tests which was a bit disappointing that we couldn't impose ourselves.
"In saying that Ardie had one of his best games in the jersey in the second test. He was outstanding. Now they'll be thinking how do we get Ardie and Sam Cane on the same field, but Ardie has to play similar to how he played at the weekend because that's how he gets most of his impact sniffing around the ball, and getting turnovers. That's an interesting mix to work out."
Asked whether Savea can produce the same impact from No 8 as he did at openside against the Boks, Read said: "It's obviously different to how I played. You've got to use him in a different way. You can't put him out wider and wait for the ball to come to him. He's better when he's around the ball.
"With those other guys it's playing to their strengths. Akira was fantastic against Aussie; a bit quiet against South Africa where maybe he's not suited, so perhaps you go with someone more abrasive like Blackadder. It's good competition.
"With Sam Cane coming back he'll add another little punch to it."
After enjoying this week off the All Blacks begin preparations to head north for their five-match tour, starting with the money-spinning test outing against the USA in Washington DC on October 24.
Read pin-pointed the final challenge of the year against France in Paris as the litmus test for Foster's men.
"France are the top team up there at the moment. They play a good, attacking style, but it's based around being physical. We've taken big strides in that space; our forwards have muscled up, scored tries and haven't conceded many this year. It's about doing it all the time though, that's the big thing, especially around phase play. Having strong carries when you need it, and big defence around the field.
"A guy like Ethan Blackadder stands out for me in that space. He's been a revelation in the way he's put his body on the line and done a lot of good things for us."
In his role with the World 12s, Read hopes organisers can work with rugby powerbrokers to find a slot that avoids clashing with the Rugby Championship, believing the tournament could provide a viable alternative to the popular Japanese sabbatical route for New Zealand players to boost their earnings.
"If it came around five years earlier I would be itching to have a go. It has that IPL feel to it. It's an awesome concept, and they're doing it right by not trying to create a rebel league.
"They going to look after clubs and unions who release players momentary wise so it would be great if it could work its way in. It's going to be very difficult for it to happen, but hopefully the administrators around the world can see it could complement the game in the long run.
"The money is going to be fairly handy for these guys on top of contracts they get here then potentially you don't have to go for a whole season away, and maybe guys aren't leaving earlier because they can pick up some extra cash.
"Players will be excited about playing in it, but it's getting it in the right space in the calendar."