Signals Beauden Barrett is heading away with the All Blacks suggest a number of issues for the next two tests against Argentina and South Africa.
It suggests there is concern Daniel Carter's calf strain may not hold up or that the selectors, having watched Aaron Cruden's output in the last two matches, are not sure he is the best choice for the next two internationals.
Whatever the reasons, Barrett's likely inclusion will ramp up the theories and widen the inspection of the five-eighths' abilities.
The 21-year-old was keen to start tonight's ITM Cup challenge from Taranaki against Auckland at Eden Park but the All Blacks withdrew his playing rights. Coach Steve Hansen has told the young five-eighths to "stay fresh" because there is a strong chance he will be needed to leave with the All Blacks on Saturday.
Barrett wanted to play after being restricted to four minutes from the bench against Argentina in Wellington and then being left in the reserves as the All Blacks battled home last week against the Springboks.
With little match play then test match rust showing in Cruden's game, it seemed practical for Barrett to get back into rugby again this week. However his exclusion looks like a sign the All Black selectors are being very cautious until they get a medical clearance on Carter or they feel they want greater options for what is sure to be a torrid two test trip.
The All Blacks will play in the unfamiliar La Plata ground in Argentina before flying on to South Africa and their last Rugby Championship test on the high velt at Ellis Park. They will take 28 players for the two tests from a squad of 29 with theories mounting about who may be left behind if Barrett travels. A flanker, prop or one from an array of players who cover the back three seem most at risk.
Decisions to release Ben Smith, Tamati Ellison and Sam Cane for ITM Cup work this week indicate they are vulnerable and that the selectors have chosen to take all five props. Captain Richie McCaw has started every game and shows no appetite for a rest but if he is injured there is loose forward cover from Adam Thomson or Liam Messam. The decision to release Cane to Bay of Plenty on Friday suggests he may be squeezed out of the forwards.
Barrett's ability to cover fullback and Corey Jane's versatility hint that Ben Smith may be most at risk in the backs because Ellison offers the best allround backup for centre and second five-eighths.By Wynne Gray Email Wynne