London — New Zealand won 12 of their 14 games, secured the Rugby Championship for the fourth year in a row and the Bledisloe Cup for the 16th, yet 2018 was the year when people began to think the mighty All Blacks may be vulnerable. Such is the dominance of the back-to-back world champions, still clearly ranked No 1, that rivals are forced to seize on the slightest chink in their armour to build belief they are beatable in 2019’s World Cup. That crack, initially exposed by the British and Irish Lions in 2017, reappeared against a resurgent SA in 2018, in a 36-34 defeat in Wellington and in Pretoria when only a superb late fightback earned New Zealand a 32-30 victory. The All Blacks also needed a controversial TMO intervention to scrape a one-point win over England before the game that really buoyed the rest of the world, when Ireland beat them in Dublin for the first time. What made that 16-9 victory so much of an eye opener was that it was not a smash-and-grab affair or something a...

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