All Blacks' pivotal showdown

New Zealand's sports-crazy fans have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions lately, enjoying the highs of thrashing Jimmy Spithill in the America's Cup but then plunging the depths with a rare loss by the All Blacks in Wellington last weekend.

And the hang-on-to-your-hats ride is far from over as everyone awaits, with some trepidation, the series-deciding third test against the British and Irish Lions in Auckland on Saturday night.

Trepidation? Well, yes, because as much as many loyal New Zealand supporters may not care to admit it, the Lions showed with their 24-21 win at Westpac Stadium, albeit against 14 men for 50-odd minutes, they pose a definite threat to the All Blacks' dominance.

Given Sonny Bill Williams' deserved sending off clearly upset the team's balance and game plan, it would be easy to dismiss the Wellington result as little more than a sporting ''hiccup''.

But should the Lions repeat the dose at Eden Park and inflict an even rarer series loss, questions will inevitably be asked about the future direction of our national game.

The All Blacks, reigning champions at the previous two World Cups, are well used to being unchallenged at the top, playing their own brilliant brand of rugby and setting the standards for all other national teams to aspire to. They are certainly not used to facing a series loss.

When one considers the All Blacks' record under coach Steve Hansen and his trusty assistants, it is hard to believe we have reached this potential turning-point for our much-loved men in black.

The statistics make compelling reading. According to Wikipedia, last Saturday's loss in Wellington was just the fifth since Hansen became head coach in late 2011. In 71 internationals since he replaced Sir Graham Henry, Hansen has won 64 tests and drawn two, for a 90.14 winning percentage. In short, phenomenal.

It was also the All Blacks' first loss at home (they did lose to Ireland in Chicago last November) for nearly eight years, since South Africa beat them 32-29 in September 2009 - a run of 47 unbeaten test wins in New Zealand. Again, remarkable.

Yet, despite these impressive statistics, Hansen and his cohorts will know full well the rugby public are expecting them to turn this thing around, and fast. The All Blacks never expect to lose and neither do their fans. As the laconic Hansen has observed, you are only as good as your last game.

It is, of course, a comfort for fans to know Hansen is well aware of (a) the threat Warren Gatland's Lions pose and (b) the potential public backlash should the unthinkable happen at Eden Park where the ABs have been unbeaten for 23 (yes 23!) years.

In fact Hansen appears to be thriving in this must-win scenario, telling the world's media last Sunday: ''It will be great. Rugby has been needing something like this for a while. It's now got it, so everyone will be a bit nervy about that because it could go either way and how exciting is that?''

Nervy? Exciting? Are these words that will really ignite confidence in the fans on Saturday night? Or do they simply point to Hansen's outstanding record, as earlier outlined, and say ''relax, we've got this covered''?

This weekend's test is arguably one of the most pivotal matches played in New Zealand since the Lions won the series here in 1971, including two World Cup finals, in 1987 and 2011.

Lose and the talkback chatter will be deafening. Win and many fans will put last week's loss down as a ''blip''. But others might regard the Lions tour as a time of reckoning for the All Blacks, a time, perhaps, for a new approach down a difficult track seeking triple World Cup glory in Japan in 2019.

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