Adam Thomson looms as the most likely candidate to inherit the All Blacks jersey left behind by the departing Jerome Kaino but the Highlanders blindside is taking nothing for granted and will even consider a move overseas if he isn't wanted by coach Steve Hansen.
Kaino, who will miss most of the year because of a shoulder injury, last week announced he will take up a two-year contract to play with Japanese club side Toyota next season leaving behind a 1.96m, 105kg hole in the All Blacks that will be hard to fill.
Thomson will do his best to be that man and has made another good start to a Super 15 season. He makes a welcome return to a Highlanders side looking to bounce back from their 33-26 defeat to the Brumbies last weekend after he missed the game with a neck injury and hopes his form will be enough to earn an All Blacks jersey this year.
The 30-year-old is off contract at the end of the season and won't make any decisions until he sees how the rest of the year pans out.
"I'm not sure [what I will do]," he said. "I'm looking at my options. I'm certainly happy at the moment and we will see how the All Blacks go this year and assess at the end, I think.
"It's the stage of my career [where] I want to be playing the best I can and at the highest level I can. If I'm not up to playing for the All Blacks any more, then I will have to have a look at what I am up to."
Thomson has played 24 tests, including a handful at last year's World Cup, and his importance to the All Blacks has increased with Kaino's injury and imminent departure.
Blindside is his best position but he can play anywhere in the loose forwards and is a key lineout option. The Highlanders certainly rely on him heavily in this area, and against the Chiefs in the opening round of the season they threw to him 11 of the 12 times on their throw.
Victor Vito is growing into a good player and the fact he was called into the World Cup squad ahead of Liam Messam would suggest he's another strong candidate. Messam's lack of effectiveness at lineout time counts against him and Hansen might also contemplate employing an openside like Matt Todd or Sam Cane.
"It's sad to see Jerome go," Thomson said. "He's a close friend of mine and we have obviously had a lot to do with each other.
"He's obviously a world-class player and will be a big loss to New Zealand rugby and the All Blacks but these things happen and it's an opportunity for the rest of us. I'm sure one of us will step up and have a crack at it.
There are plenty of new faces in the Highlanders for today's game against the Rebels in Invercargill as they get to grips with their huge injury toll.
Thomson and fellow All Black Jarrad Hoeata return but they will have to do without All Blacks Colin Slade (broken leg) and Andrew Hore (calf) as well as openside John Hardie (toe) and lock Nick Crosswell (knee). These come on top of injuries to Lima Sopoaga (fractured scapula), Kenny Lynn (fractured neck), Siale Piutau (broken ankle) and wing Telusa Veainu (concussion).
"You never want to lose guys, especially your top players, but unfortunately it's nothing new to us," Thomson said.