It's not unusual for public opinion to race ahead of coaching assessment. That's certainly the case with Vaea Fifita who has captured the imagination of those not paid to worry about the detail.

In New Plymouth against the Pumas, Fifita won many admirers. Of course he did because who doesn't love seeing a 1.96m, 113kg blindside skin a wing for pace?

Who didn't love seeing Fifita charge up the middle in the first half, breaking tackles at will? It was a performance true to the Hollywood mantra of always leaving the audience wanting more.

The All Blacks coaches would include themselves in the wanting to see more category. Their gameplan needs athletic, ball-carrying forwards. They want big, agile men who can use the ball. Fifita ticks those boxes in a way few before him have. When he's at full tilt, his high knee lift and long stride make him a horror show to bring down. Even Brodie Retallick said he's not had much luck, fun or success whenever he's had to tackle Fifita in Super Rugby games.

Advertisement

But as much as the All Blacks coaches want to see more of Fifita, they also need to see more from him. Fifita is a seductive force, much in the same way as Ardie Savea is.

The two Hurricanes flankers are similar in the sense that they both possess almost ridiculous athletic qualities that allow them to do things other players can't. Give Savea space and he'll run like a back, pop up in the most unexpected places, pull off the almost impossible and contribute in a way that leaves defences puzzled.

It is hypnotic viewing and why he has such a large following who, throughout last year, were adamant he should be starting tests at openside ahead of Sam Cane. But the coaching staff only bought so far into the legend of Savea because their expectations were different.

What they need from their openside is graft: a player who can make repeat dominant tackles, cleanout 125kg props, carry into the heaviest traffic and yet, after all that punishing work, still have the legs to link the play.

On that criteria, Cane sits ahead of Savea and the situation is much the same when it comes to making a comparison between Fifita and Liam Squire. For now at least, Squire has the greater understanding of the blindside role. He's more experienced, more in tune with the demands of test football and what actually needs to happen for the All Blacks to play the game they want.

Fifita has all the same physical attributes and that vital aggressive attitude, but doesn't have the same game understanding or ability to inject himself into the game in the right way at the right time.

"We need him to be in the right places in the different structures, but that's normal," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen after Fifita's wow factor performance in New Plymouth against the Pumas.

"As he gets out there and understands the structures better, he's likely to be in the right places more often than not. But you can't just go out to the flank and wait for the ball to come to you. Sometimes, as a flanker, you've got to do the hard work too."

It's not that the All Blacks don't want Fifita to maraud on the wing, just that if he's going to, it can't be at the expense of the grafting chores. He needs to learn how to balance his game at the highest level to give the All Blacks the best of both worlds.

Squire has come of age this year because he's been able to do just that. He's been brutal in the close encounter stuff, making some huge hits and playing the role of enforcer. He's also, though, been able to get his hands on the ball out wide and use his explosive power and pace to cause damage on the flanks.

He's only worried about doing the latter once he's taken care of the former and this is the sort of mix the coaching staff want to see from Fifita. They have every faith he can do what they will need him to as he's proven himself to be a fast learner - malleable and responsive to coaching input.

The coaches may not see Fifita in quite the same light as the public, but it's only a mater of time before the two are in alignment.