THEY have played seven Tests so far this year but the All Blacks have yet to play a truly excellent 80-minute game.
The one against Samoa, that warm-up before the Lions series, was too easy a game but the closest to a decent one over 80 minutes was the first Test against the touring Lions. After that the best they have given was in the first half against the Wallabies in Sydney.
If they were known to regularly kill off their opponents in the last quarter, this has happened only once so far this season and that was last weekend against the Pumas but otherwise the All Blacks have gone from slick to slack in quick order.
The number of tries has been higher than everyone else as usual but high too has been their error rate and opposing teams have noticed this and are saying that the world champions and Rugby Championship defending champions are indeed vulnerable and are there for the taking.
A lot of this talk has been coming from England, currently looking like the team most likely to get the better of the All Blacks, but lately there have been similar noises from Australia and South Africa, their opponent this Saturday in Albany.
What is clear this year is that teams have been testing the All Blacks more, especially through a faster line speed in defence, pressuring them into more errors than usual. At the same time the All Blacks have yet to find a truly effective way to counter the rush defence.
There is also the issue of some tweaking of the matchday squads, mainly due to injuries, but overall the team is not groaning over the situation they are in. If at all the coaches and players welcome the fact that they have been exposed on the park, two years before they defend the World Cup.
The downside imposed on the All Blacks is that people expect them to be slick and entertaining all the time, to score many tries while letting in as few as possible, to make every pass count and especially to play running rugby at a fast pace.
Playing at pace is what they did in the last three matches but it’s the kind of game that often result in many errors. With the team all going upfield at pace, any dropped possession tends to leave a huge hole at the back and that’s what happened in the two opening games against the Wallabies who have their own dangermen on the counter attack.
Despite the hiccups, the statistics show that by most reckoning, the All Blacks remain on top of the pile.
Since the last World Cup they have played 20 Tests, winning 17, losing two and drawing one. Only England has a slightly better percentage, being undefeated in 2016 and losing only one of eight this year.
After being held close by the Pumas last week until the 55th minute, and even trailing by a point at halftime, they will face a Springboks side that is emboldened and confident that the All Blacks are now vulnerable and have weaknesses to be exploited.
There is no disputing the strength of the Springboks this year, in their second season under coach Allister Coetzee, and much of this confidence is an offshoot of the performances of their Lions Super Rugby franchise the last two seasons.
If previously the Boks frequently used the aerial bombardments, they now run more with ball in hand, both by the backs and forwards.
The physicality that was the trade mark of South African rugby for many decades in the amateur era and for many years in the professional game has now returned to the Springboks and the All Blacks know that they will pay a price if they cannot plug the errors.
The Springboks haven’t had it easy in their last 10 games with the All Blacks, winning only once by 24-25 in Johannesburg in 2014.
They last won in New Zealand in 2009 in Hamilton by 32-29, so have lost seven Tests in a row in New Zealand but this is a different team with a different playing style and tactics.