All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on Thursday moved to allay fears his world champion side were becoming stagnant, saying the uneven performances of 2017 were just part of the natural life-cycle of the team.
The All Blacks face a resurgent South Africa at North Harbour Stadium on Saturday with injuries sweeping through a squad which has struggled to reach the levels of 2016.
They battled against the linespeed defence of a well-drilled British and Irish Lions outfit and have gone off the boil for periods in the Rugby Championship despite winning all three games.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has reassured fans his New Zealand team are not stagnating
Hansen, however, said the team's travails were of no concern on the road to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
He said: 'In 2016 we hit the road running. We had a group of men who were primed and they really jumped at the opportunity. What has changed is the game and we're learning to deal with that.
'You're always going to have a tough time at some period in your life. It would appear this is the year where we are having to find out about ourselves.'
Hansen did concede they have been at the end of a cycle after losing Richie McCaw (middle)
The All Blacks have been impatient during the Rugby Championship, trying to force things at a high pace.
They shipped four unanswered tries after jumping out to a 54-6 lead after 48 minutes in the opener against Australia, then battled to a 35-29 victory in the return match against the Wallabies before a 39-22 win