The All Blacks had a relatively average 2014 by their high standards. They played 13 test matches and won 11 with one loss and a draw, was their 2014 a pass or fail?
Here is my take on the All Blacks 2014;
The All Blacks definitely passed in 2014, but they lost their edge on the field, with the gap closing between them and the chasing pack. The All Blacks lost their clinical edge in 2014 with more basic dropped balls, missed goalkicks and botched lineouts than I can remember in an All Blacks team in a long time. The amazing thing is that they still managed to go through the year nearly completely unbeaten.
This team has an unquestionable belief that they can win every game, and if it wasn't for an unlucky penalty conceded against South Africa at Ellis Park, they would have been unbeaten. This is even more remarkable given the poor first half they had in that game. Sure, they didn't win by the comfortable margins of earlier All Blacks teams in Richie McCaw's era, but at least they are still winning games.
People are getting worried that the All Blacks aren't beating their main rivals by 50 points anymore. Personally I don't have a problem with this. as I think that they still have areas to work on like handling, lineouts and goalkicking and they are still getting across the line, even though it takes them until the final quarter most of the time.
We must also remember that apart from the USA, the All Blacks had 12 top opponents in their test calendar, with England bringing a good team in June, while the other matches were against Australia (3), South Africa, Argentina, both twice, Scotland, Wales and England again.
We are quick to forget 2003 when the All Blacks thrashed South Africa and Australia by massive margins, only to come unstuck when it really matters, in the Rugby World Cup semi-final against the Wallabies.
The fact of the matter is that the Rugby World Cup 2015 played in damp conditions in Europe will be won in tight slugfests and the All Blacks are getting used to this now. Most games won't be won in games of touch footy like Super Rugby, they will be ground out in the finals, much like the All Blacks have had to do in 2014.
We have to give the competition some credit with the Springboks, Wallabies, England, Ireland, Wales, Argentina, France and even Scotland looking like they improving and changing their styles of play to push the All Blacks. There was a time in more recent times when even other top eight nations would be cannonfodder for the All Blacks, and that wasn't healthy heading into Rugby World Cups. These tournaments aren't won by scoring tries, they are about kicking goals and winning the strategic battle.
The All Blacks have the most experienced team in the world, so they are well placed to capitalise next year, although they have at least been bringing through some young talent like Malakai Fekitoa, Beauden Barrett and Charles Piutau and the rebirth of Colin Slade to keep the old heads on their toes.
Hopefully the All Blacks management has the knowledge and insight to select the right players for the Rugby World Cup 2015. For this reason it is going to be interesting to see what happens in 2015, with selectors having to go with one of their first choice first five eighths, and this player must improve at their goalkicking. I also want to see another quality hooker emerge in 2015 and hopefully we can fix our lineout and handling errors. Sometimes our backline seemed to lack cohesion, which is needed heading into Rugby World Cup year.
In summary, the All Blacks definitely passed in 2014, even though they didn't necessarily play that well. They managed to grind out wins in most matches which is what is required to win Rugby World Cups. They only had one easy match in 2014 and still only lost one game. There is still plenty to work on with handling errors, poor goalkicking and lineouts, areas to work on moving forward. Credit must also be paid to their opponents who have pushed them more than in the recent past.
How did you rate the All Blacks 2014?