The All Blacks enter 2019 as a wounded beast going into this year's Rugby World Cup in Japan, according to the Rugby Magazine's Alistair Stokes.
Having been somewhat exposed on the 2018 northern hemisphere tour, the All Blacks enter the new year with several question marks hanging over them, tasting a stinging 16-9 defeat to Ireland and putting the rest of the world on notice heading into the World Cup.
Writing for therugbymagazine.com, Stokes says that the target painted on the All Blacks' back has only grown larger, with rival nations more confident than ever of stopping Steve Hansen's attempt for a third straight Webb Ellis Cup.
"The almost untouchable aura that has traditionally surrounded the All Blacks has suffered a gradual decline since the world's top-ranked team claimed a second consecutive World Cup title at Twickenham in 2015," Stokes writes.
"With Joe Schmidt's terrifyingly coordinated Irish side disputing New Zealand's place atop the World Rugby rankings and England's and South Africa's performances against the All Blacks over the last four months, the chasing pack are beginning to sniff Kiwi blood."
Stokes did, however, go on to pinpoint the All Blacks' large number of first-string casualties for the poor end to 2018. But he also hints at uncertainty among New Zealand's ranks.
"Admittedly, injuries to Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Sam Cane, Brodie Rettalick, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Liam Squire, Nepo Laulala and Kane Hames will have certainly put pains to New Zealand's continuity in 2018.
"However, even within a fully fit All Blacks squad, question marks will still linger over certain positions and combos."