There may not be much mystery about their play - we had grown all too familiar with New Zealand rugby even before the Lions were there in the summer - but what the All Black still has, and doubtless always will, is mystique. To pull on that jersey, even for a journeyman player, is to become twice the man. Or twice the journeyman.
In any case, expectations have been a lot worse: Cliff Porter's 1924- 25 All Blacks won all 30 of their matches, not bad for a squad excoriated beforehand as the worst ever to leave New Zealand. No wonder new wearers of the silver fern feel themselves to be in some sort of mystical communion with a hallowed past.
They also know that, whatever the uncertainty Down Under, at least they retain public goodwill. But if they go back as failures - whether real or perceived - the welcome that awaits them will be as icy as a winter's morning in Invercargill. The grim-faced 1991 World Cup team may not have been very popular in this part of the world but that was nothing compared with the opprobrium that swept over them back home.
Because Sean Fitzpatrick's squad, who arrived at their Surrey headquarters yesterday, contain 10 players with no caps (and others with very few) they exude a paradoxical mix of apprehension and assurance. The apprehension of stepping into the unknown, the assurance that comes simply from being an All Black.
There is neither a Grant Fox to kick the goals and run a tight tactical ship, nor a Michael Jones to create and destroy, but there is a new, rising generation for whom this tour represents the first step on the way to the 1995 World Cup.
You could argue that New Zealand are now, by their own design, at the same stage as Australia were when they toured France in 1989. The Wallabies took some beatings, won one Test and lost another, but by journey's end had put in place nearly all the team who would win the World Cup two years later.
There is one difference: unlike most other tourists and not least the recent Lions, All Blacks are not supposed to lose any match, Test or otherwise, not even if it is merely building up to something greater, like a World Cup.
'It's one of the great things about All Black teams,' Fitzpatrick said yesterday. 'We have that fear of losing which creates a pressure to perform and to win. If we can manage that pressure the right way, it goes a long way to producing the results.' Here are the statistics of 88 years of All Blacks' touring the British Isles: played 222, won 200, drawn nine, lost 13. Beatable? Yes. About to be beaten? Hardly.
TOUR ITINERARY (Tests in capitals): 23 Oct London (Twickenham). 26 Oct Midlands (Leicester). 30 Oct South-West (Redruth). 2 Nov North (Anfield). 7 Nov England A (Gateshead). 10 Oct South of Scotland (Gala). 13 Nov Scotland A (Old Anniesland, Glasgow). 16 Nov Scottish Development XV (Myreside, Edinburgh). 20 Nov SCOTLAND (Murrayfield). 23 Nov England Emerging Players (Gloucester). 27 Nov ENGLAND (Twickenham). 30 Nov Combined Services (Devonport). 4 Dec Barbarians (Cardiff Arms Park).
NEW ZEALAND TOUR PARTY PORTRAITS
Age: 27. Club: Waikato. Tests: 5.
Replaced brother Greg at full-back for the second Test against Ireland last year and scored 23 points,the highest ever by a Test debutant.
Age: 25. Club: Auckland. Uncapped.
Incisive runner, Howarth pushed himself into All-Black reckoning with an impressive provincial season.
Age: 24. Club: Otago. Tests: 18.
Improved with each Test on the tour of Australia and South Africa, capped off by a superb performance at Ellis Park.
Age: 24. Club: Auckland. Tests: 17.
Samoan-born, has scored 13 tries for All Blacks. Bothered by injuries on 1989 tour to Wales and Ireland, but returned to have a strong tour of France in 1990.
Age: 28. Club: N Harbour. Uncapped.
Open-side flanker converted to wing on the All Black tour of Australia and South Africa last year. Fast, elusive runner with good try-scoring record.
Age: 19. Club: Otago. Uncapped.
Rising sporting talent. Made debut for New Zealand cricket team against Australia in one-day internationals earlier this year. Brilliant all-round ability.
Age: 31. Club: N Harbour. Tests: 14.
Played in all five Tests this year and nine last year. Scored two tries in each Test against the Irish and has developed into a highly proficient try-scorer at international level.
Age: 24. Club: Auckland. Tests: 6.
Made debut against World XV in 1992. Played both Tests against Ireland last year and first two Tests against the Lions this year.
Age: 27. Club: Wellington. Tests: 1.
Called in after injury ruled out Walter Little. First match for All Blacks gave him record for shortest Test career when he replaced Frano Botica in third Test against Australia in 1986. He was on the field for seconds before final whistle.
Age: 22. Club: Auckland. Tests: 3.
Made debut in final Test against the Lions in July. Has the hallmarks of a long All-Black career.
Age: 27. Club: Otago. Uncapped.
Only specialist stand-off on tour. Bachop came to prominence with some fine performances for Western Samoa in the 1991 World Cup.
Age: 22. Club: Otago. Uncapped.
Versatile footballer, who has played at full-back, wing, centre, and stand-off.
Age: 24. Club: Otago. Uncapped.
Won his place from a clutch of solid candidates by producing consistently impressive form for Otago.
Age: 25. Club: Wellington. Tests: 7.
Took over from Ant Strachan for second Test against Lions and scored one of three tries in third Test.
Age: 26. Club: Taranaki. Tests: 1.
Selection put in doubt by a fracture of his jaw, from a punch by Graham Purvis. Very mobile, excellent ball skills. Sound scrummager.
Age: 25. Club: Auckland. Tests: 9
Samoan-born, established himself as No 1 tighthead, forcing selectors to switch Test tighthead Richard Loe to loosehead.
Age: 23. Club: Auckland. Tests: 5
Made debut in first Test at Lancaster Park and held place for remainder of home programme. Pushed aside former Test front rower Steve McDowell to establish himself in Auckland team. Powerfully-built, mobile prop.
Age: 32. Club: Waikato. Tests: 2
Veteran front-rower, one of New Zealand's most formidable scrummagers. First won All-Black selection in 1989 and has toured each year since.
Age: 30. Club: Auckland. Tests: 54.
Test hooker since 1986 and ever present since start of 1987 World Cup. Fourth most capped All Black. Mobile, strong with good tryscoring record.
Age: 24. Club: Hawke's B. Uncapped.
Heir apparent to Fitzpatrick. Very fast, mobile, aggressive player. Outstanding for Maoris and Hawke's Bay against the Lions.
Age: 26. Club: Auckland. Tests: 10
Made debut against Ireland last year and kept place. Excellent temperament, mobile, rugged player.
Age: 26. Club: Waikato. Uncapped.
Making his fifth All Black tour since 1989. Dropped after 1991 World Cup but received call as reserve for the Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia. Front of lineout jumper.
Age: 26. Club: N Auckland. Tests: 29.
Dropped after the first Test against the Lions after 26 consecutive internationals. Went on at half-time for Mark Cooksley and was automatic choice for third Test.
Age: 24. Club: Auckland. Uncapped.
Surprise pick asfourth lock. Made Auckland debut against Natal in Super 10 series this year and kept place. Tallest player in squad.
Age: 22. Club: N Harbour. Uncapped.
Bright prospect on first All Black tour. Follows grandfather and father to become an All Black. Rangy, fast and effective allround player.
Age: 28. Club: Auckland. Tests: 21.
Has failed to nail down regular place since taking over from Wayne Shelford at No 8 in 1990. Dropped after second Test loss to Lions, but returned in third Test.
Age: 29. Club: Southland. Tests: 6.
Called in after Michael Jones broke his jaw. All Black debut in Canada 1989 but forced out of the Wales/Ireland tour by knee injury.
Age: 23. Club: Otago. Tests: 11.
Rugged blindside specialist, made debut in second World 15 match last year, and was suspended for stamping. Aggressive, good ball- winner at line-out.
Age: 29. Club: Waikato. Uncapped.
Has never had All Black trial but consistently good form, led to his selection. Grafting, rugged player, a prolific try-scorer.
Age: 25. Club: Otago. Tests: 10.
Robust, aggressive loose forward established as first choice No 8. Lost place to Zinzan Brooke for first two Lions Tests, recalled for third.Reuse content