The renaissance of TJ Perenara, not included for the June series against Wales but brilliant since then for the Hurricanes, has culminated in a rare and precious start for the All Blacks.
Named in the No9 jersey in the absence of regular starter and workaholic Aaron Smith, Perenara is set to press his claims further against Argentina in Buenos Aires on Sunday after impressing against the Pumas at Waikato Stadium three weeks ago. The 24-year-old replaced a cranky Smith in that test and was instrumental in an All Blacks' momentum shift which overwhelmed the visitors.
"TJ has had a very good season with us," coach Steve Hansen said.
"Every game he has played since the June series, where he didn't get too many, he's been outstanding. He's clearing the ball off the deck the way we want him to and he's just doing everything right.
"Nuggie [Smith] has had a massive season. He played a lot for the Highlanders and has played every game for us. We sat down and thought about it and said 'At some point we will lose him to injury, we've got to find out if these two other boys can cope and do the job'. Now's the time. TJ is in good form and TKB [Tawera Kerr Barlow] needs to get back in the group."
Kerr Barlow was favoured over Perenara against Wales, but the form of the Hurricanes' vice-captain since has been compelling.
"He has taken a while to bring his Super Rugby form to the test arena. I think he fell into the trap that many young guys do when the guy ahead of him is playing well ... he was trying too hard and trying to do everything," Hansen said.
Hurricanes skipper Dane Coles, selected again at hooker for the All Blacks, said of his franchise team-mate: "Coming back since June, he performed so well for the Hurricanes. He's a very competitive man, I don't think I've met anyone so competitive. I know he would have taken that [non-selection] pretty hard, but he loves proving people wrong. It's awesome seeing him get a start because he's a great player."
Another All Black being given a significant opportunity is blindside flanker Liam Squire. Squire, who normally plays No8 for the Highlanders, will make his first start for the All Blacks in the absence of Jerome Kaino and said living up to Kaino's enforcer role would not be easy.
"I've been quite lucky over the last couple of months to train alongside him each week so I've been getting tips off him," Squire said. "It makes the transition easier. I know there is going to be an expectation that I will fill the jersey like he does, so it will be a challenge."