After the high of a thrilling Lions series the All Blacks now face the tough task of raising themselves for the considerably lesser challenges ahead.
Steve Hansen’s team, and Hansen himself, will be bitterly stung after failing to claim the Lions scalp, despite the undoubted feel-good factor of a shared series.
The trick for Hansen will be to harness that disappointment and turn it into anger to be channeled against the Wallabies, Springboks and Pumas when the All Blacks take to the field again on August 19.
Here are the five big questions Hansen and the All Blacks face:
Apathy is the enemy
The All Blacks were on an emotional high during the historic Lions series, which many players rightly saw as a career highlight.
A Lions tour only comes around every 12 years whereas Tests against the Wallabies have become monotonous, up to four a year, and very rarely are the All Blacks challenged.
The All Blacks have held the Bledisloe, contested between Australia and New Zealand, since 2003 and since 2012 the two teams have met 15 times with Australia winning just once.
The Wallabies have been very poor since May last year, winning just 44 per cent of their matches and slipping from No2 in the world to No4. Australian teams in Super Rugby have been disastrous with New Zealand Super Rugby sides holding a 23-0 record over their antipodean rivals this season.
The ABs will be unbackable favourites to win the Bledisloe 3-0 and after the excitement of the Lions series, it will be very hard for Hansen to get his team up for such a ‘contest’.
Aura of invincibility cracks
After being regarded as invincible since their 2015 RWC triumph, the All Blacks looked decidedly beatable in this Test series.
Reduced to 14 men in Wellington, they went tryless and leaked tries themselves while in Auckland in the decider they had the Lions on the ropes but could not finish them off.
They made 15 very un-All Blacks handling errors in that match alone, three in try-scoring opportunities.
The Lions players from this series, especially the younger generation such as Maro Itoje, Liam Williams, Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Owen Farrell, Tadhg Furlong and Kyle Sinckler will now have great confidence that they can match the All Blacks and even beat them, especially at home.
England and New Zealand look set to face a showdown in the 2019 RWC semi-finals and after this Lions series there will be a lot of belief among the young Englishmen that they can best team NZ.
The trouble with SBW
Hansen has a big dilemma in his very famous centre Sonny Bill Williams. If he doesn’t get sent off in the second Test for a shoulder to Watson’s head then the All Blacks probably win the match and the series.
The red card changed the momentum of the series and gave the Lions a chance.
Ngani Laumape, who came in for Williams, showed he deserves more time at Test level and Ryan Crotty may be back from his hamstring injury in time for Bledisloe 1.
So does Hansen punish Williams or will he forgive and forget and re-instate him to the starting line up? The fallout will be huge either way. A real dilemma for Hansen.
Protecting his legacy
Hansen was deeply crestfallen after the drawn Test in Auckland.
In terms of his own career, a Lions series victory was meant to be the crowning achievement after successfully retaining the Webb Ellis Cup in 2015.
Whatever he does now – even going on to win the RWC in Japan in 2019 – he can never wipe out the stain of failing to defeat the Lions. How Hansen will deal with this is crucial.
Does he let it eat away at him and undermine his confidence or does he use it to re-stoke the fire and take revenge against Wales, Scotland, Ireland and especially England over the next two years?
It was noticeable during this Lions series just how much the All Blacks relied on their older players.
The ABs never recovered when Jerome Kaino went off in Wellington due to Williams’ dismissal in Wellington and they were never able to make up for the absence of full-back Ben Smith, who was injured in the first Test.
Kaino is 34 and will be 36 by 2019, Smith will be 33, Dane Coles 32, Wyatt Crockett 36 and captain Kieran Read 34.
Rugby is more and more a young man’s game. Managing these players, finding suitable replacements and knowing when to transition will be a massive job for Hansen.