Two nations held their collective breath overnight as Ireland stood on the verge of defeating the All Blacks for the first time in history, and with a 22-17 lead with minutes to play, it looked as if for the second year in a row the World Champions would fall at the final hurdle.
Yet the mental capacity of this All Blacks team, their refusal to lose and uncanny ability to win matches even when out of form, are arguably the major traits that allow them to stand head and shoulders alongside the pantheon.
They have won 14 Tests from 14 Tests, the first time in the professional era a nation has notched 'perfection'.
How do they compare with other great All Blacks teams throughout history?
The 1905 Originals used their forwards to run with the ball, unseen at the time, which led to the news line which has become urban legend...they run as if they are all backs...which many believe led to the tag we know so well today.
The Invincibles in 1924, unbeaten in 32 matches, played with a pace beyond any side that came against.
In the late sixties the mighty All Blacks team coached by the late great Fred 'the needle' Allen played a style of intimidation rugby that had the side the grim conquerers of the world at the time.
The 1987 All Blacks had some of the greatest players of their generation playing a no-nonsense brand of rugby, while the 1996/1997 team utilised an all-round style of play that had them storm the professional era.
In 2005 New Zealand under Tana Umaga was almost unbeatable playing high octane attack, with this side putting together some of the most impressive winning margins ever seen under an All Blacks side.
However these current All Blacks may be the best of the bunch - simply because they are deep in regeneration and still riding a peak.
In the past even the most awesome New Zealand Test sides have been vulnerable to aging or lack of rising stars, but this All Blacks team, having introduced 21 new players to their ranks over the last two seasons, could have the edge for this point alone.
Any side that can field the most experienced international starting team in history at an average age of 26 is getting the balance right.
So are they the greatest?
Only time can allow such arguments to pan out, while the difference in playing styles, physical attributes and the technology available makes such alignments fraught with danger.
Kieran Read, with nominations for the IRB and Kelvin R Tremain awards, has been widely recognised as the best player in the world for 2013 (Getty Images)
Numbers at a glance:
Played 14, Won 14, Lost 0
Points for 454 / Points against 239
Average margin: 32-17
Tries for 51 / Tries against 19
Average try margin: 4-1
Top point scorers:
107 - Aaron Cruden
57 - Dan Carter
55 - Ben Smith
Top try scorers:
11 - Ben Smith
7 - Julian Savea
6 - Kieran Read
5 - Sam Cane
4 - Beauden Barrett
- The All Blacks celebrated four years at the top of the world rankings, now standing at 211 weeks.
- Achieved 10 of their 14 wins against the teams ranked No.2, No.3, No.4 and No.5 in the world.
- Richie McCaw signed off 2013 with 112 Test victories, still the only player in history to crack a century of wins.
- Keven Mealamu had his 95th Test match win (in his 111th Test) last weekend, now second behind his captain.
- Kieran Read has scored 15 tries from the No 8 position, a world record.
- Two All Blacks, Read and Ben Smith, have been nominated for the IRB World Player of the Year award.
- Having playing their 512th Test, against Ireland overnight, the All Blacks now have 390 wins (76.2 % record).
- In the professional era the All Blacks have won 180 from 217 Tests played since the 1996 season.
- For the first time in the professional era, the All Blacks finish the year as the most prolific kicking team.
The All Blacks have had plenty to celebrate this year, with the unity of the squad obvious throughout a long 14 Test campaign (Getty Images)
All Blacks record in the professional era:
Year Pl Won Lost Draw % For Aga Diff Tries Conv Pens Drop
1996 10 9 1 0 90.00 346 190 +156 40 28 28 2
1997 12 11 0 1 95.83 571 201 +370 72 53 34 1
1998 7 2 5 0 28.57 183 139 +44 22 14 14 1
1999 12 9 3 0 75.00 483 192 +291 52 38 48 1
2000 10 7 3 0 70.00 474 238 +236 60 42 28 2
2001 10 8 2 0 80.00 334 162 +172 38 27 30 0
2002 11 8 2 1 77.27 375 175 +200 47 31 25 1
2003 14 12 2 0 85.71 602 207 +395 81 58 26 1
2004 11 9 2 0 81.81 367 180 +187 40 31 35 0
2005 12 11 1 0 91.66 447 165 +282 55 41 30 0
2006 13 12 1 0 92.30 421 215 +206 44 33 44 1
2007 12 10 2 0 83.33 594 148 +446 80 58 25 1
2008 15 13 2 0 86.66 489 201 +288 56 43 40 1
2009 14 10 4 0 71.42 333 229 +104 25 20 56 0
2010 14 13 1 0 92.85 495 246 +249 59 46 36 0
2011 12 10 2 0 83.33 456 150 +306 60 39 23 3
2012 14 12 1 1 89.28 466 193 +273 50 39 44 2
2013 14 14 0 0 100.00 454 239 +215 51 41 39 0
They said it:
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen after the Irish match:
"The main message (at halftime) was we've got to have faith that we can do this."
"They've scored 22 points so I just said we can't allow them to score any more and we've got to score 23 if we want to win the game. I said we're more than capable of doing that as long as we trust each other and ourselves to do the job we had to do.
"It was pretty calm, and there wasn't a lot of finger-pointing from anybody. The whole group were nice and calm and we knew we had to stay connected to get the job done."
Irish coach Joe Schmidt:
"You've got to be prepared to defend until the final seconds and we didn't."
"We have to live with that now. A draw would also have been a loss to us."
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw after the Jonathan Sexton penalty miss.
"I thought if that had gone over it would have been game over."
"But instead it missed and I could feel our players get a lift from that. The Irish guys then tried to eat up time but I have always felt as a player that can backfire and so it did here."
Cane is very able. All Blacks captain Richie McCaw shakes Sam's hand after a bloodied openside had put together a coming of age performance against the Springboks (Getty Images)
2014 Test by Test:
(Score, winning margin, halftime score, opponent, location, date)
1st Test June Internationals
23-13, +10, 17-10, v France, Auckland, 8 Jun 2013
When Wesley Fofana scored the opening try for France, it looked ominous for the All Blacks who took until the 21st minute to open the scoring via an Aaron Cruden penalty.
Quick tries to Aaron Smith and Sam Cane gave the home team the advantage before halftime, but the absence of Richie McCaw was telling as Thierry Dusautoir and Louis Picamoles ran riot at the breakdown.
The second half was a tight affair, with just three penalty goals kicked, but strikes from Cruden in the 60th and 74th minutes gave the All Blacks a tight win.
2st Test June Internationals
30-0, +30, 10-0, v France, Addington, 15 Jun 2013
The threat of France's running game saw the All Blacks put together a kicking package that ended up being one of the best such displays from a New Zealand team, and an early try from Julian Savea gave the hosts a ten point edge at the break.
The second half was a relentless affair as the boots of Cruden and Smith kept France pinned back, moving the ball around from the point of contact to nullify the prowess of the French back row.
Tries to Ben Smith and Beauden Barrett in the second half allowed the All Blacks to record one of their most dominant victories against their great rivals.
3rd Test June Internationals
24-9, +15, 8-6, v France, New Plymouth, 22 Jun 2013
The All Blacks continued to tinker with their starting lineup without Richie McCaw, as Dan Carter returned for his first match of the season, and the result was a patchy first half where a try to Ben Smith gave the World Champions a two-point lead at halftime.
To the credit of the French coaching team, errors in their play had been worked on from fixture to fixture, and they weren't gifting the All Blacks possession while concentrating their firepower in the centre of the field, eliminating the hosts preference to shift it wide.
Only Carter penalties kept the All Blacks in front, before Barrett scored a blinder on full time to flatter the final scoreline.
1st Test The Rugby Championship
47-29, +18, 25-19, v Australia, Sydney, 17 Aug 2013
Richie McCaw returned as the All Blacks played a tight first half out with Christian Leali'ifano kicking four penalties in the first half while converting Will Genia's late score to keep in touch with the World Champions.
Ben Smith, Cruden and McCaw might have scored in the first half to give the team a six-point lead at the break, but the second half saw the All Blacks superior fitness tell.
Two more tries to Ben Smith in the final 40, and a further to Conrad Smith, saw the hosts score a 22-3 period from the 40th to 79th minute, with a late James O'Connor try giving the final margin a respectable look.
2nd Test The Rugby Championship
27-16, +11, 15-6, v Australia, Wellington, 24 Aug 2013
An injury crisis at first five-eighth saw Tom Taylor start and Colin Slade feature on the bench, but while the Canterbury pivot kicked four penalties and a conversion, two first half tries to Ben Smith were ultimately the winning of the contest.
As the match progressed the All Blacks played a calm and patient territorial game, keeping the Wallabies pinned back, even if Matt Toomua was looking the goods in his first Test start at number ten for Australia.
A late Israel Folau try continued the recent theme for these battles, with the All Blacks securing the match before slightly taking their foot off the throat.
Despite sitting out the first half of the 2013 season via 'extended leave', All Blacks captain Richie McCaw looked like he hadn't left when he returned against the Wallabies (Getty Images)
3rd Test The Rugby Championship
28-13, +15, 15-10, v Argentina, Hamilton, 7 Sep 2013
Argentina are not known for their fast starts, so when Juan Manuel Leguizamon opened the scoring in the fifth minute there was shocked silence around Waikato Stadium, with just one Dan Carter penalty to show for the opening 22 minutes from the All Blacks.
A rapid brace to Aaron Smith in three minutes allowed the All Blacks to take a five point lead into the sheds in a match where Los Pumas played their disruptive style to perfection.
There was only a try to Savea in the second half, but the boot of Carter and Barrett proved the difference, while Argentina playmaker Nicolas Sanchez could manage only the solitary penalty in the final 40 minutes.
4th Test The Rugby Championship
29-15, +14, 17-10, v South Africa, Auckland, 14 Sep 2013
The opening try to Kieran Read and another to Brodie Retallick gave the All Blacks the edge in a ferocious first quarter which saw Dan Carter leave the field after being floored with a Bismarck du Plessis special.
A try to the hooker kept the Springboks in touch at half time, but a second to Read and a score to Sam Cane gave the All Blacks a 29-10 lead with quarter of an hour to play.
Pundits that saw the contest was ruined when du Plessis was red carded had some balance restored when the All Blacks finished the last seven minutes with just 13 men on the field, and it was only then that South Africa added to their points tally in the closing 40 minutes.
5th Test The Rugby Championship
33-15, +18, 11-9, v Argentina, La Plata, 28 Sep 2013
In hindsight Los Pumas put together one of their most complete halves of rugby when just a Savea try allowed the All Blacks to put together a narrow 11-9 lead at halftime, with three penalties to Sanchez keeping the pressure on the World Champions.
However Los Pumas were unable to find a way through the All Blacks defence, with their patterns without the ball arguably more responsible for their success.
A withering burst saw Cane and Ben Smith cross for trys around the 50 minute mark, while the flying wingman added another in the closing minute to set up a blockbuster in the Republic.
6th Test The Rugby Championship
38-27, +11, 21-15, v South Africa, Johannesburg, 5 Oct 2013
Flagged as one of the matches of the season, this contest didn't let anyone down, and while Ben Smith continued his rich try scoring form by opening the ledger in the 11th minute, two quick strike tries by Bryan Habana ignited this contest in a manner few could have predicted.
Liam Messam had one of the games of his life, scoring two tries in the first half while Barrett and Read touched down in the 60th and 64th minute respectively, while a perfect evening of conversions from Cruden and Barrett were critical factors.
Willie Le Roux and Jean de Villiers allowed the Springboks to cross for a rare four tries against the All Blacks, but as has become their trademark, they closed out the game without mercy as they won just their fourth match at Ellis Park in 12 visits.
The All Blacks and Springboks finished the 2013 season as the top two teams in the world, and the epic nature of their clashes did not disappoint (Getty Images)
41-33, +8, 30-19, v Australia, Dunedin, 19 Oct 2013
The Wallabies saved their best performance against their trans-Tasman rivals until last in an entertaining contest saw the All Blacks wrack up three quick tries, and only a 39th minute score by Adam-Ashley Cooper and the boot of Quade Cooper kept the visitors in the match.
While Kieran Read continued his try scoring form in the second half, his touchdown was the solitary score for New Zealand, and tries to Tevita Kuridrani and Toomua gave Australia some hope as they headed towards their highest score on New Zealand soil.
Yet it was a case of anything you can do, we can do better, as the All Blacks recorded maintained a seven match unbeaten run against the Wallabies.
1st Test End of Year Tour
54-6, +48, 28-6, v Japan, Tokyo, 2 Nov 2013
A vastly changed All Blacks team took on Japan for the first time outside of a Rugby World Cup tournament, and for nine minutes a 0-0 scoreline showed how competitive the Brave Blossom have become.
Even after the All Blacks had a 7-0 lead, two straight penalties to Ayumu Goromaru made it a one-point ball game with 25 minutes gone, until the floodgates opened.
In the final 55 minutes the World Champions scored 47 unanswered points while scoring eight tries in the process, but a strong Japanese scrum and a great atmosphere made the 'exhibition' match a worthy affair.
Despite sitting outside the top 15 of the International Rugby Board rankings, Japan put together what was their best ever result against the All Blacks (Getty Images)
2nd Test End of Year Tour
26-19, +7, 9-9, v France, Stade de France, 9 Nov 2013
Few were expected the ferocious contest that Les Bleus served up against the team that had defeated them at the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final, and Dan Carter and Morgan Parra trading three penalties each in the opening stanza.
Tries to Charles Piutau and Kieran Read gave the All Blacks the winning breathing space required, but were held scoreless in the final 15 minutes while Brice Dulin added a try in the 69th minute to make it a breathless closing ten minutes.
However the All Blacks don't have a reputation as one of the premier match closing teams in the world for nothing, and held out for their tightest win of the year.
3rd Test End of Year Tour
30-22, +8, 20-16, v England, Twickenham, 16 Nov 2013
This was the match everyone was talking about especially considering that only England have managed to defeat the All Blacks since August 2011, and a dream start to the hosts with a first minute try to Savea was a bit of a mirage.
A second try to New Zealand via Read gave the World Champions early space, but then Joe Launchbury opened the scoring for the Red Rose, while four kicks from Owen Farrell allowed the hosts to close the gap to just four points at halftime.
While England's power pack was causing some issues for the world's number one ranked team, the defence and precision of the All Blacks proved to be the difference.
4th Test End of Year Tour
24-22, +2, 7-22, v Ireland, Lansdowne Road, 24 Nov 2013
In a week where talk was dominated by a potential 'perfect season', the Irish clearly went about their business with great efficiency, and a 19-0 lead after just 17 minutes ensured Irish eyes were smiling.
The All Blacks are not the best team in the world for nothing, and a start that would have broken lesser teams was put aside as Savea scored to put the All Blacks on the board.
Ireland were putting together an absolute masterclass at the breakdown, even going as far take Kieran Read out of proceedings. It was however the self belief and the refusal to 'shut up shop' that allowed the All Blacks to break Irish hearts in the 81st minute.
The bond between All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and his captain Richie McCaw is one of the reasons for the team's success, as two emotional men embraced after the Dublin escape (Getty Images)