The back three, midfield and second-row will be focal points of interest in the All Blacks' team to open their World Cup campaign but once all positional debates are settled, responsibility rests on their dual playmakers to dictate terms against the Springboks.

The All Blacks attack has been the subject of much angst over the past two years or so.

Improvements were evident in dominant recent victories over the Wallabies and Tonga but after three starts together, questions remain around the Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett combination which is expected to return against the Springboks in Yokohama.

Three tests offers minimal time for any combination to find their feet together, let alone two playmakers expected to orchestrate relatively new attacking structures from different sides of the field.

Beauden Barrett makes a break with Richie Mo'unga in support. Photo / Photosport
Beauden Barrett makes a break with Richie Mo'unga in support. Photo / Photosport

Playmakers, by nature, demand the ball. So while embracing two first five-eighths in the starting team creates doubt for the opposition about where the next strike may occur, elements of hesitation and confusion from the All Blacks have produced jarring moments too as Mo'unga and Barrett attempt to find their rhythm.

This dual playmaking combination made its debut the last time the All Blacks faced the Springboks, and it was not a roaring success in the 16-all draw.

To be fair to both Mo'unga and Barrett's preparation for that test was not ideal.

The All Blacks travelled back from Argentina, where Barrett started at 10, while Mo'unga and most of the Crusaders had the week off following their Super Rugby success, leaving little time to get the pair on the same page.

Their second start together didn't go to plan, either, though this was compromised by Scott Barrett's red card in the record Perth defeat.

Of Mo'unga and Barrett's three starts, only in the last win over the Wallabies did we begin to see their partnership gel, with a view to exploiting space and unlocking widespread rush defensive systems.

The All Blacks team photo at the official team welcome ceremony in Tokyo. Photo / Photosport
The All Blacks team photo at the official team welcome ceremony in Tokyo. Photo / Photosport

Crucially, this performance came on the back of an impeccable platform from the All Blacks forward pack – one that will be much more difficult to repeat against the man mountains the Springboks possess.

That is why this week, in their fourth start together, the Mo'unga-Barrett combination may face their greatest test.


Mo'unga is a superb talent but, given his relative inexperience at test level, the All Blacks could opt to partner him with Crusaders teammate Ryan Crotty who is considered the best communicator of the All Blacks midfielders.

Jack Goodhue's hamstring injury which forced him to miss the last two tests may also see Anton Lienert-Brown's irrepressible form retained at centre.

Without Goodhue the midfield could potentially lack punch but starting Crotty and Lienert-Brown would allow the All Blacks to inject Sonny Bill Williams off the bench, as they did with great impact at the last World Cup.

All Blacks centre Anton Lienert-Brown. Photo / Photosport
All Blacks centre Anton Lienert-Brown. Photo / Photosport

In the back three, the main question could be whether Ben Smith or Sevu Reece gets the nod on the wing.

Smith is the safe bet, particularly against a Boks team that will regularly target the air, but Steve Hansen tends to back his form finishers.

With Rieko Ioane seemingly out of favour, a potentially potent yet somewhat risky and inexperienced back three of Barrett, Reece and George Bridge could be selected.

Mobility has been the theme of Hansen's selections in the forward pack and it would, therefore, surprise if the All Blacks deviate from the Ardie Savea-Sam Cane-Kieran Read loose forward trio but there will be interest about whether Shannon Frizell's size or Matt Todd is preferred on the bench.

On the same note, Scott Barrett's greater aerobic capacity may give him the edge ahead of Patrick Tuipulotu's physicality if the All Blacks are keen to play at pace.

The only other tight call comes at hooker where Dane Coles' experience may pip Codie Taylor for the starting role.

Possible All Blacks team:

Beauden Barrett, Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Joe Moody

Bench: Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Angus Ta'avo, Patrick Tuipulotu, Shannon Frizell, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Ben Smith