New Zealand is a different beast -- concerns about All Blacks are entirely valid

As summer descends on Aotearoa New Zealand, dark clouds greet the All Blacks' arrival home.

While they complete one-week hotel isolation the team would be best advised to switch off the wireless, unplug the Wi-Fi and close the curtains to block out the circulating storm.

Three defeats are hardly cause for panic elsewhere. The Wallabies lost seven Tests this year and the vast majority still believe in Dave Rennie's long-term vision. The Springboks dropped five Tests, including two in a row to the Wallabies, and there is no sense of alarm from the world champions.

New Zealand is always a different beast, though. Here, three losses in a calendar year amounts to the worst All Blacks season in 12 years and a near national disaster.

The All Blacks' unwanted records -- the first twin defeats in the northern hemisphere in the professional era -- fuels those demanding highly successful Crusaders coach Scott Robertson is immediately promoted to replace Ian Foster and his management crew.

Two reviews round out the year for the All Blacks - an internal one, followed by the standard practice formal debrief with New Zealand Rugby where players and management will give feedback on where they must improve.

Foster is certain to survive. Having been reappointed for a further two years in August, just prior to the Rugby Championship, he will lead the All Blacks through to the 2023 World Cup and get a chance to right this year's wrongs, unless the rot really sets in.

The concern for the All Blacks, and the fire behind the fury of widespread criticism, is not so much the successive defeats to Ireland and France to end the year but the nature of those results.

The blueprint for rattling the All Blacks has been set for some time and there appears little advancement or evolution to counter those tactics.

Ireland outmuscled the All Blacks pack, as is a common theme in recent losses, and starved Foster's men of possession. When a response was expected, demanded, the following week in Paris, France instead stunned the All Blacks with their combination of pace and power. France's 24-6 half time lead is the largest margin the All Blacks have conceded in history.

So, yes, concerns are entirely valid. Veteran hooker Dane Coles was typically honest in his assessment.

"Physicality is your number one mindset. If you don't have that, then you can't get yourself into the game," Coles said. "I think with the Irish and the South African boys, we were definitely not where we needed to be. But it just seemed like the speed of the game today - that first 20 they just broke us on the outsides - and I suppose the physicality around our defensive lineout stuff wasn't where it needed to be either.

"I definitely put it down to physicality in the first two Tests. Tonight was just... I can't get my head around it at the moment. For us to be where we want to be, we've got to step up in that department. Teams are coming for us. I don't have the magic words to make it all good, but we have got to sort it out in the next couple of years.

"We have to look ourselves in the eye and have those tough conversations. We can't shy away from it. Those last two games haven't been good enough. There's always an expectation as an All Blacks to perform and put our hand up, and we haven't done that in the last two weeks."

There are mitigating factors for the underwhelming end to the year such as being confined to a restrictive COVID bubble for three months - a situation that allows little escape from the mental burden. The contrast when Ireland tours New Zealand for three Tests in July at the end of their season could be telling.

Yet no matter the circumstances, New Zealand demands the All Blacks reign supreme. That's the nature of the gig.

Winning 12 of 15 Tests, claiming the Bledisloe Cup with a 3-0 sweep and the Rugby Championship title; scoring a record 101 tries and 720 points - boosted by notching centuries against heavily weakened Tonga and USA teams - is not considered a successful campaign. Not even close. The blunt reality is the All Blacks lost three of their four heavyweight encounters against the Springboks, Ireland and France that were always going to define their season.

Foster, though, remains far from despondent. Defiant, even.

"When I put it into context and look at the growth in a bigger squad overall I think we're making some really good progress," Foster said. "But the last two weeks have certainly hurt and given us plenty of motivation for next year.

"I really believe in the group we've got at the moment. Before the last two Tests, I was delighted with progress. We've had a couple of good lessons. There's a little bit of mental fatigue at the end of a long season, and we struck two teams that played good rugby against us. When we reflect on the year, I'm very satisfied we've made great progress and we've got good depth. I've got no doubt about that."

Amid the doom, there were bright spots for the All Blacks in the form of Ardie Savea, Will Jordan, with 15 tries in 11 appearances on the wing, Rieko Ioane, along with the emergence of dynamic Chiefs hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho and Blues openside Dalton Papalii.

Others will be nervous as next year's squad cull looms.

Honest introspection and something amounting to revolution is needed. Perhaps fresh coaching voices, the likes of Wayne Smith or Joe Schmidt, must be brought into the mix, before the All Blacks welcome Ireland and then trek to South Africa for two Tests. It's a brutal start to the 2022 Test season, one the All Blacks must get right or the chorus of criticism will become too deafening to dismiss.

Before the All Blacks resume, Super Rugby Pacific takes centre stage from mid-February for its inaugural 12-team season. The Crusaders start favourites but the Blues, with Beauden Barrett back on deck and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck set for his midfield debut, are intent on proving last year's trans-Tasman success was no one off triumph.

Until then, enjoy your festive season.