It's only halfway through the tour - we didn't have the advantage of seeing the test against Wales last night before this column had to go to print - but there is some clear progress being made in the competition within the team for positions.
I'm talking Ben Franks vs Charlie Faumuina; Brodie Retallick vs Luke Romano; Liam Messam vs Victor Vito; Piri Weepu vs Aaron Smith; Beauden Barrett vs Aaron Cruden; and Julia Savea vs Hosea Gear.
I'd also like to mention new hooker Dane Coles in the context of wishing that they played midweek games as we always used to up north. I think that would set off some of these fine, new players very well. Like Coles. He's done well enough and was brought onto the bench against Wales and he's shaped up as mobile and involved - a far cry from the guy a year or two ago who got a bit big for his boots on and off the field.
He is a lot more focused now and I reckon a game or two against the likes of Bath and Gloucester, as we used to, would do him the world of good. As it would Sam Cane, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito and others.
I think Faumuina is winning the battle against Franks. Brother Ben has probably reached his peak and is not liable to improve further. What you get is what you see with him - he doesn't ever have a bad game but he doesn't have a brilliant game either. Faumuina has more potential in terms of mobility, ball-carrying and maybe scrummaging but is still susceptible to the odd off day.
Romano got the starting berth against Wales so he is clearly winning the battle with Retallick. But the latter is very young and will be putting in good performances when Romano has retired, I predict. I'd tend to start with Retallick and Sam Whitelock at lock as Romano is a bit like Kees Meuws and Ollie Le Roux, of South Africa. They can cause a lot of damage when they come off the bench in the last 15-20 minutes or so. But I can see why the All Blacks brains trust like Romano - he has got a huge engine and he does so much of the grunt work so well.
For me, Liam Messam has earned his place over Victor Vito as, the way the All Blacks play, they want someone to take it up hard and be aggressive and Messam is doing that. However, you can see a future where Vito does the same thing and he probably has more potential in terms of speed, ball-carrying and all-round skill.
I laughed when I heard all the noises coming out of the All Black camp about Weepu starting against Wales. Yes, he played well against Italy but I think all the guff about starting Weepu against Wales was really just the selectors justifying their stance in picking Weepu for the tour. They would have been in the crapper if he'd had a horror. He'll be remembered for turning in a good showing when his career was on the wane but, for me, Smith is the future.
I'd say Beauden Barrett has cemented himself in the 23 shirt with that display against Italy when Israel Dagg was injured. He played well and showed his versatility and skill. Cruden has probably got the upper hand at the moment but what a huge boon having two such good young guys backing up Dan Carter now. I also don't buy the stuff about Cruden being targeted on defence. If Richie McCaw and Kieran Read and Ma'a Nonu know the opposition are going to run at Cruden, they will be there with bells on and crunch the runners. It doesn't always pay to target the so-called weakest link.
As for the wingers, I think Savea has clearly out-distanced Hosea Gear on this tour. Not that Gear has done anything wrong, it's just that Savea has taken his opportunities and looks dangerous and an obvious selection right now.
It's still early days but these may be some of the selection patterns that we see in this All Black team over the next year or so.By Richard Loe Email Richard