While it would be difficult to pinpoint the exact moment this All Blacks side turned itself around, the arrival of Jason Ryan as forwards coach would be a good start.
In July last year, Ryan was parachuted into the All Blacks after a history-making 2-1 series defeat to Ireland, tasked with replacing John Plumtree as forwards coach.
And with little time to make a difference, Ryan’s impact was almost immediate, after labelling the forward pack as “dented”.
As the All Blacks lost in Mbombela, an incredible backs-to-the-wall win in Johannesburg a week later showed the effect Ryan had had in transforming the forwards, and the All Blacks’ pack has been on an upward trajectory ever since.
Now, on Sunday (NZ time), that trajectory will reach its climax, as the All Blacks face South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final in Paris.
But regardless of the result at the Stade de France, Ryan looks fondly on his work in such a short space of time.
“[I’m] extremely proud,” said Ryan. “The boys have shown a lot of care.
“I’ve challenged them in different areas on the training field, and had some honest conversations in our meetings.
“We’ve set ourselves up to give ourselves a chance. I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved, and we’ve got one to go.”
Ryan’s arrival coincided with Ian Foster fighting to save his job, a feat he achieved with that victory in Johannesburg.
Since then, the All Blacks have continued to rewrite expectations, culminating in reaching Sunday’s final.
And while Foster has at times been attacked from all sides, the commitment to the cause and the goal of winning the World Cup is what Ryan admires most about his senior charge.
“One of the great things about Foz is just how much he loves the All Blacks,” he said. “It’s all about the team, every decision he makes.
“Clearly, he’s been through a lot, but the All Blacks have been through a lot to be honest. It’s never about one person in the All Blacks.
“That’s what’s been impressive to me.”
That pride between Ryan and the forwards goes both ways.
Dalton Papali’i has had years playing both against Ryan, during his time with the Crusaders, and under him for New Zealand at age group and senior level.
And asked what makes Ryan special, Papali’i’s appraisal outlined exactly why the success that’s been had over last year has been possible.
“He’s probably been one of the best forwards coaches I’ve had, and I’ve only had him for a short amount of time,” said Papali’i.
“I had him in under 20s, but seeing his growth from when he came into the All Blacks, he holds everyone accountable.
“You could have [played] 100 games, or even one game, and he’ll still call you out. It keeps you on your toes, which is a good thing.
“Pressure is always accountable, and he does that. The good thing is… he’s got good banter as well.
“He’s a mate, but he’ll hold you accountable when you’re on the job. He’s been massive for the shift in the forwards.
“He’s in a pretty good area at the moment.”
Now, ahead of the biggest game of his coaching career – so far – Ryan is grateful for the support the All Blacks have been receiving.
Coach Foster has already made it clear what the support from home means. And while the All Blacks acknowledge the stakes at play come kick-off at the Stade de France, it’s a challenge they’re walking towards.
“The pressure’s a privilege,” Ryan added. “For myself, it’s just a massive opportunity to represent my country.
“For myself, it’s just an opportunity to represent my country. All I can say from a personal level is just the messages the whole team and the All Blacks have had from New Zealand and our country the last few days and this week has been unbelievable.
“The support that’s coming in, people doing their shops in black, we feel it. There’s been a lot of messages, emails, voicemails.
“It’s just special that the country’s behind us, because it’s the country’s team.”
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