The All Blacks' redevelopment has been the focus in 2021, and the Tests against Ireland this weekend and France next should reveal how successful that has been.
Since beating the All Blacks for the first time in Chicago in 2016 and then repeating the effort in 2018, Ireland had been a tough nut to crack in all but their World Cup quarterfinal in Japan in 2019 when New Zealand won 46-14.
No one in the All Blacks camp is reading too much into the World Cup result, however.
All Blacks' defence coach Scott McLeod said Ireland appeared to want to play more rugby under new coach Andy Farrell. They had employed their off-loading game and showed a willingness to play from their half against Japan, something they hadn't done often in the past.
First five-eighths Johnny Sexton, who played his 100th Test at the weekend, was still a significant factor in the team, directing all their play.
"He's an extremely experienced man, and knows what is in front of him and the team and knows how to put them around the park really well and how to use his strengths. He's one we've had a close look at," he said.
McLeod was involved the last time the All Blacks played in Ireland, in 2018. He remembered the pressure put on the side and the way the side reacted to that.
While there had been changes in the Ireland team, especially in the loose forwards. The newer players had picked up where the others left off, especially in contesting the breakdown where they were hard and physical.
"They got plenty of hands on Japan's ball yesterday so we're expecting the same threat," he said.
Reflecting on the Italy Test, McLeod said Italy had tried hard to slow the ball down at breakdowns and then get more men in front of them defensively, something they did well.
He expected Ireland would use the aerial tactics as well as running the ball.
"We will have to contend with that. Conor Murray is one of the best aerial kickers in the game and Jamison Gibson-Park is not far behind so they've got two threats there. And Sexton puts the ball exactly where he wants it to go, he's a master of that. It's something we'll be preparing well for this week," he said.
The challenge for the All Blacks will be getting their play in the collisions and their tactical reads accurate. A lot of that was controlled by Sexton, and it wasn't so easy to read because he usually had three or four options on the go.
Lock Brodie Retallick would be available for the game after training fully with the side on Thursday, while halfback Brad Weber, who broke his nose against Italy, woke symptom-free on Sunday but would have to go through an independent concussion process.