The All Blacks are looking back on their Rugby Championship victory with pride despite Saturday's narrow defeat to South Africa, NZ coach Ian Foster says.
In arguably the most thrilling test of the entire Rugby Championship, Foster's side ended up on the wrong side of the ledger on the Gold Coast - as the Springboks clawed their way back from a disappointing defeat in Townsville to claim a 31-29 victory over the All Blacks.
While the loss ended any hope of the All Blacks' southern hemisphere 'Grand Slam', Foster's side can be excused for letting their standards drop having already sealed the title a week before and playing their fifth test in as many weeks - as opposed to South Africa's four in four.
But despite the caveat of the All Blacks' first loss of 2021, Foster is making no excuses - speaking of his frustrations at losing a test that saw his side in a superior position heading into the final minutes.
"We're obviously bitterly disappointed," Foster says. "To lose any game at the end when you've got control of it is frustrating.
"I thought the South Africans played superbly.
"They came with a lot of attitude, they carried hard, moved us around and really challenged us in many ways.
"I thought they were really strong in that third quarter and got us a bit flustered, but I just loved the way we hung in there. Again, we found a way, we did some nice things.
"We took some great opportunities early in the game, [scored] some nice tries and got ourselves back into a winning position, but then lacked a little bit of discipline in those last two minutes.
"But that's what big tests are about. Credit to them and it just shows we've got a little bit of learning to do.
"[I'm] intensely proud of a campaign that I think we've taken one big step forward, but we've got a few more to take."
Having at times failed to inspire in Foster's maiden campaign last year, the improvement has been evident in the All Blacks' class of 2021.
Until Saturday, Foster's side had won 10 tests in a row, nine of which coming this calendar year, and at times had looked untouchable against the likes of Australia and Argentina.
The only blemish comes in the form of the last two weeks against the world champion South Africans, where two points separated the teams on each occasion.
But Foster's All Blacks will no doubt be better for the experience.
Missing several key players, the All Blacks still wrapped up the Rugby Championship with one game to spare - while at the same time giving younger players a taste of test rugby against the world's best.
"I've got no doubt that we've grown considerably, I'm very, very proud of the way the guys have handled the last five or six weeks," Foster adds.
"This man next to me [captain Ardie Savea] has led superbly, along with our leaders. We've got a really tight group that's excited about growing.
"We've approached these last two tests as a chance to test ourselves against a foe that we know plays a style that can suffocate you. I think we got some good lessons out of that, and we showed that we can deal with it, but we also showed we need to deal with it for longer periods of the game.
"Overall, it's a good step for us. It's been a good championship, and we can have a bit of a break - unfortunately in Australia rather than New Zealand - and get ready for the northern hemisphere."
The All Blacks will now have a break before they depart Australia for the US - where they'll face the Eagles in Washington on October 24, before their European tour to end the 2021 season.