World Cup winning All Black first five Dan Carter is adamant Aaron Cruden should start the first test against Wales at Eden Park this weekend and he's confident New Zealand will be too strong for Warren Gatland's men.
Carter has spoken exclusively to NZME at his French club Racing Metro's training centre south of Paris where he has been enjoying a standout season since joining up with the Top 14 club in December.
The World Rugby player of the year says he's always felt Cruden should be given first crack in the number 10 jersey now he has retired from international rugby.
"I was really interested to see how Cruds would bounce back from such a serious injury and credit to him and the way he has worked and he has bounced back seamlessly. He was my pick from the start and he was in the leadership group and has been there for a couple of years now, and I think it's his time to lead this team."
The 34-year-old who has just recovered from a calf strain having missed the last three weeks of the Top 14 regular season, says there are so many options for Steve Hansen and the selectors.
"We are spoilt for choice you could put any one of those three (Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Lima Sopoaga) in there and they would perform and lead the team around the field, so it's a tough job for the selectors but I think Cruds with his experience (should get the nod).
Carter felt Beauden Barrett's would add the impact of the bench with his versatility while he's sure Sopoaga will get an opportunity at some stage.
This weekend is the first All Blacks test since Carter's international retirement and he has mixed emotions.
"I'm not too sure to be honest, I am really excited and I can't wait, and have turned into a bit of a fan. When I sort of knew I wasn't going to play for the All Blacks any more I haven't missed it to be honest. But now it's one week away from the first test it's such an exciting feeling." Carter said.
Paris isn't always the easiest place to find an All Blacks test at 9-30 in the morning on French TV but Carter has things sorted.
"Much to my French teacher's despair I ended up getting UK Sky because I missed New Zealand rugby so much and wanted to watch Super Rugby so much. I will be sitting at home at 9-30 in the morning and cheering on the All Blacks."
Having watched plenty of Super Rugby, Carter thought the level being played at home was better than what has been dished up in the Northern Hemisphere.
"If anything the boys playing Super Rugby, their form has been outstanding, the New Zealand boys have been playing so well. It's going to be an exciting series, the Welsh have backed themselves and have talked about at least trying to get one test, but the level we have played at home is much higher and I am sure it will tell."
Carter's Racing Metro will host traditional powerhouse side Toulouse in the first round of the Top 14 playoffs this weekend after finishing fourth in the regular season.
He has missed the last three weeks with a calf strain but is expecting to return for the pivotal match.
"I was pretty lucky to be involved in the run to the European final (Champions Cup) it's an amazing tournament but there's something a little bit more special about the French competition. You ask any of the French players what they would rather win. I'm sure the majority if not all of them would say they would rather win the French competition so to be at the playoff stage against one of the powerhouses is going to be exciting."
While Southern Hemisphere rugby officials continue to press for a global season and an end to the June internationals breaking up Super Rugby, Carter for one can't see it happening.
"Not really, I think they (French clubs) are quite content with the way things are even though there's not a lot of player welfare up here with the long season and so many games. It obviously makes sense but I can't see anything happening in the near future which is tough. But you just have to get on with the seasons that are in place and manage it and do as well as you possibly can."
- Matt Brown travelled to Paris thanks to Emirates Airline