The identities of the All Blacks midfielders to play the Lions are now clear, but the question is in which order they will be trotted out.

The Sonny Bill Williams and Anton Lienert-Brown combination, after a sketchy start against Samoa, began to click in the second half. There was some angst about their connection in the first quarter, particularly on defence, but they settled and gelled more effectively as the game wore on.

They kept things simple. Williams ran straight and hard and didn't look to overdo the offloads. Lienert-Brown picked his support lines well and had enough space to use the ball astutely.

It was a promising start to their combination and creates genuine choice for the All Blacks selectors as they consider their options to play the Lions.


Ryan Crotty should be available. He is expected to have recovered from the rib injury he picked up against the Highlanders.

And that makes life interesting because Crotty has been the form No12 in Super Rugby. He was the form No 12 all through last year as well and he took his composure and accuracy to the test arena.

If there was a feeling in his earlier career that he perhaps lacked the same weaponry as the likes of Ma'a Nonu and Williams, that perception diminished somewhat last year with the way Crotty went about influencing games with his footwork and distribution.

He also formed, midway through the Rugby Championship, a tidy and effective partnership with Lienert-Brown.

There will be reluctance within the All Blacks selection group to go into that first test without Crotty. There will also be some reticence about splitting up the Williams-Lienert-Brown combination. So what to do?

"It is going to be tough," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen admitted. "There are going to be three quality players there. Sonny was again pleasing. There were a couple of little things he won't be happy with and we won't be either and you can say the same thing of Alby [Lienert-Brown]. As the game wore on both of them got better and better. One thing about Sonny is that he is like an old meat pie - he gets all the flies and everyone else is okay. As they started to try to get on top of him it opens up for other people and Anton was good enough to take that space that was allowed for him. So it's a good combination.

"Ryan is a really heady player and good talker and when you are under pressure you need someone like that."

The solution is to use all three in that first test, in the same way as the All Blacks found a way to accommodate Williams, Nonu and Conrad Smith at the 2015 World Cup.

The option to restore Crotty to No12 and use Williams off the bench will be tempting. Williams has proven ability to inject himself into a test and make an impact.

"We used a one, two, three punch in the World Cup because we had three really good midfielders and so I'm picking all three of them will probably be involved," Hansen said.