The world champions look better than ever
Back-to-back Rugby World Cup winners New Zealand appear to have found another gear since winning last year's tournament and have sent ominous signals ahead of their northern hemisphere tour.
After the All Blacks became the first country to retain the Rugby World Cup in England last year, it appeared to signal the end of an era. Legends such as Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Conrad Smith amongst others, left the international set-up (and in McCaw's case, the game altogether) to allow the next generation to come through.
Kieran Read now leads the all-conquering New Zealanders and it looks like they have no intention of letting their standards slip. They white-washed Wales in a three test series in June by a combined total of 121-49. They followed that up by winning the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship with two games to go. In the end, they won six out of six and claimed the maximum amount of bonus points available.
It's no coincidence that Australia, South Africa and Argentina all ended the tournament with a negative points difference while the All-Blacks finished with a 178 point surplus. The top six try scorers in the tournament were New Zealanders.
The game away to South Africa at the weekend was an eye-opener for the locals. New Zealand were relentless and pummeled the proud Springboks by nine tries to zero. Even in added time, sitting on a 50-15 lead in their own 22 over their greatest rivals, the Kiwi's turned the screw and ran the pitch to leave the locals staring at a 57-15 reverse.
After the game head coach Steve Hansen said: "Whilst it was pretty spectacular, it wasn't perfect. No game ever will be. In the first half we still weren't as clinical as I would like us to be so there's still plenty to work on."
The All-Blacks have now won 17 test matches in a row and will set a new world record with another victory. Australia are the next lambs to the slaughter in the third and final (and dead rubber) Bledisloe Cup match at Eden Park in Auckland. The Wallabies haven't beaten New Zealand there since 1986 and the home side haven't lost to anyone at the ground since 1994.
New Zealand then head north to take on Ireland in Chicago, Italy in Rome, Ireland again in Dublin before signing off against France in Paris.
Rugby is pockmarked with unlikely wins from Western Samoa's defeat of Wales at the 1991 Rugby World Cup to Japan's humbling of South Africa at last year's tournament. But when will anyone stop this current New Zealand side?