Newcomer’s ability to multi-task likely to secure All Black debut
Malakai Fekitoa's ability to cover both midfield positions and, at a pinch, wing, could see him as a beneficiary if Julian Savea is ruled out of the first test against England.
Cory Jane is likely to be the big winner if Savea, who probably would have started on the left wing, is out of the mix. The powerful No11 was due for a scan yesterday afternoon on the problem which has been troubling him for three weeks and must be considered a big doubt.
The door now has also been opened slightly wider for new boy Fekitoa, a 22-year-old who has been a big reason why the Highlanders have improved this year. He has pace, power and the ability to learn - all aspects the selectors, seeking a back-up to centre Conrad Smith, have been impressed with.
With Steve Hansen and co keen to have the in-form Ben Smith on the field from the start, and probably on the right wing, Jane might have initially feared for his place.
The selectors will want cover for halfback, first-five and midfield on the reserves' bench, along with five forwards.
On the All Blacks' end-of-year tour of the United Kingdom, Ryan Crotty was named as the midfield cover, the Crusader cementing himself in the highlights reel for 2013 when scoring the last-ditch try against Ireland in Dublin which helped secure his side's perfect year in terms of results.
Given Fekitoa's form and potential, the selectors might want to get him involved earlier in the series, rather than later, and his greater versatility might get him the nod, albeit possibly from the bench.
Jane has had a challenging year with the Hurricanes - he struggled to make the starting line-up under Mark Hammett earlier in the season and was replaced after 53 minutes during the Hurricanes' defeat to the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday. However, there is no doubt he has a big-match temperament and the ability to consistently deliver for the All Blacks. In 45 tests, it is hard to remember a poor performance from the 30-year-old.
The Savea injury, along with Sam Cane's knee problem, which has ruled him out of the series, and Kieran Read's concussion issues, have made for a more difficult week than the selectors might have expected. Far from seamlessly transitioning into test week from the two recent training camps, the selectors have some big decisions to make.
Initially, their main concern among the backs would probably have been whether to start Aaron Cruden or Beauden Barrett at first-five, and Hansen said at the squad announcement that they had already made their decision on their preferred No10. Now they might have to add a new No11 and No8 to their list. They have yet to bring in a replacement for Savea, which increases Fekitoa's stocks further.
"They're only disruptions if we allow them to be," Hansen said yesterday. "Rugby is a contact sport and we're going to have people get injured and we just have to deal with it."