All Blacks coach Ian Foster admits his side remains far from the finished product but there was a quiet sense of satisfaction after they snapped a two-test losing run to finish the year with a vengeful victory over the Pumas.
Following the 38-0 shutout in the sweltering Newcastle heat, which all but secures the All Blacks the Tri Nations title, Foster also lauded Sam Cane's calm leadership while praising Akira Ioane's standout display in his second start in the No 6 jersey.
From a team perspective Foster knows this year's three win, two loss, one draw record did not meet expectations for the start of his new era.
But two weeks after the All Blacks' first loss to the Pumas, there was enough in the five-try response for Foster to believe his squad will further improve in 2021.
"It's been an immensely difficult year for everyone," Foster, who came under immense scrutiny after the All Blacks dropped successive tests for the first time in nine years, said.
"I feel for Argentina, they've been over here a long time with the commitment they've shown.
"A fortnight ago we'd just played our fifth test in six weeks and it was tough. You saw Argentina play their third test in three weeks and it's tough. There's been a lot of challenges for all the teams.
"For us there will still be a few niggly hurt moments, particularly the loss to Argentina, but at least we had a chance to fix it; to show that we can play, that this group is developing. We've got a bit more to go, we're clear about that, but it's a better way to finish."
Argentina's resolute defence again forced the All Blacks to work hard for their points, restricting them to a 10-0 halftime lead, but the attacking variety and patience they brought this week eventually cracked the blue wall with Dane Coles, Ardie Savea, Patrick Tuipulotu and Will Jordan, who nabbed two in two minutes, all claiming well-taken tries.
"We've got a lot of respect for the way Argentina play and particularly defend. We hammered away, played a lot of rugby against them, and had a lot of variety with our kicking game.
"We could have taken a few more opportunities in the first half but we didn't lose our way or get frustrated and we were clinical in going back to areas we felt we were getting them.
"We made them make a lot of tackles, broke them down and reaped the rewards particularly when our bench came on which brought a heck of a lot of energy and picked up a few plumbs from our defensive pressure.
"We played at a tempo that kept them moving, kept them guessing and the decision making was a lot more clinical."
The All Blacks blew several try-scoring chances by opting for the all-or-nothing kick option rather than going through the hands, and Foster noted this area could be managed better.
"In some ways we may have over-kicked a couple of times in the first half but it's a matter of showing respect for what the opposition is doing. I'm assuming they knew it was coming but it gave us a better balance, no doubt about that."
Cane copped plenty of criticism for the way in which he addressed fans' feedback following the defeat to Argentina but there can be no complaints with his lead-through-actions approach. Behind the scenes, Foster lauded his skipper's leadership style.
"The nicest thing I can say is he did exactly what I expected of him. It's not the easiest job in the world - particularly when the knives come out and the pressure comes on it's easy to doubt yourself, but I didn't see any of that. I saw someone who believes. The group had a firm belief in what we're doing and he led that."
And on Ioane, who seized his starting chance, Foster was clearly impressed with the way in which he carried out his core duties.
"From the last two or three years we've seen an athlete grow. He's adapted really quick to what test matches are all about. He wants to be physical and wants to be tough and he did it in the right way.
"Under [John] Plumtree's guidance he's starting to enjoy the set piece side of life. It hasn't been his passion but he's improving there. Now he's had a taste of it and knows he can play well at this level there's a big opportunity for him."
Cane, sporting a nasty cut above his eye, revealed the push to present the Pumas with an All Blacks jersey featuring '10 Maradona' on the back came from halfback TJ Perenara.
"It was a gesture, a token, to pay our respects to an Argentine legend but a legend in his field as well," Cane said. "Personally I don't know a lot about soccer but I think it was the right thing to do.
"We'll be excited to get on that plane. Two weeks in a hotel but we're looking forward to getting back home to our friends and family then we'll put some hard work in over summer and reset and look forward to 2021 and hopefully a slightly more normal year."