With the first All Blacks squad of the year announced tomorrow, the Herald on Sunday rugby writers have their say on who Steve Hansen should pick for the first test against France on June 9.
Jordie Barrett's time will come in the starting All Blacks No.15, but I'm not putting him there. Mr. Reliable Ben Smith starts at the back for me, which allows speedsters Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane to man the wings. It was tough to cut Ben Lam out of this equation, but as the incumbent, Ioane gets the nod.
Ngani Laumape wins the No.12 jumper over Sonny Bill Williams - who I fully expect to actually be named here - and Jordan Taufua lines up at the back of the scrum. Both players have been impressive in Super Rugby this year and deserve the opportunity.
The tight five pick themselves, with Codie Taylor starting at hooker while Dane Coles is out. The reserve hooking role wasn't as clear-cut for me. I would have liked to pick Ricky Riccitelli, but he's had his problems at lineout time and I feel like Nathan Harris is a more reliable option.
On the bench, Ardie Savea gets the nod over Vaea Fifita, Damian McKenzie just beats out Richie Mo'unga, and McKenzie's ability to cover first-five or fullback opens a spot for midfield cover in the form of Williams - Jordie Barrett another tough cut.
Starting XV: 15. Ben Smith, 14. Waisake Naholo, 13. Ryan Crotty, 12. Ngani Laumape, 11. Rieko Ioane, 10. Beauden Barrett, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Jordan Taufua, 7. Sam Cane, 6. Liam Squire, 5. Sam Whitelock, 4. Brodie Retallick, 3. Owen Franks, 2. Codie Taylor, 1. Joe Moody.
Reserves: 16. Nathan Harris, 17. Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19. Scott Barrett, 20. Ardie Savea, 21. TJ Perenara, 22. Damian McKenzie, 23. Sonny Bill Williams.
Ben Smith starts at fullback in my All Blacks team for the first test at Eden Park. He is the best in the world there, and I know he's probably the best right wing in the world too but I believe Waisake Naholo deserves that spot because of his form for the Highlanders and ability to make something from nothing.
Naholo's pace is irresistible and he has become a much more consistent player since his test debut in 2015.
There was a temptation to select Jordie Barrett at fullback for his ability under the high ball and goalkicking prowess, but he gets a spot on my reserves bench. Barrett the younger can cover every position in the backline apart from halfback and first-five, the latter covered on my bench by Damian McKenzie.
In preparing McKenzie as Beauden Barrett's main back-up (with Richie Mo'unga close in third), I would give the 23-year-old Chiefs player the last 20 minutes as playmaker at Eden Park should circumstances allow.
The rest of my backline picks itself, with Rieko Ioane on the left wing and Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty in the midfield, with Aaron Smith at halfback. They are all incumbents.
The loose forwards mix is where it gets contentious again. Much will depend on Liam Squire's fitness, but if he's had enough game time following his recovery from a broken thumb, I would start him at blindside flanker, with Akira Ioane at No8.
Squire's hard edge on attack and defence will be crucial in the absence of Kieran Read.
Ioane at No8 would be a slight gamble, but he has played consistently well for the Blues this season and is almost unstoppable from the back of an attacking scrum. It would be his first test, but he deserves a shot.
The All Blacks tight forwards are straightforward, with Jeffery Toomaga-Allen on the bench as tighthead prop cover in the absence of Nepo Laulala, who is recovering from a broken arm.
Scott Barrett is a dynamic lock replacement, with Ardie Savea adding impetus in the loose in the second half. Overall, there is experience there, but also a look towards the future.
Starting XV: 15. Ben Smith, 14. Waisake Naholo, 13. Ryan Crotty, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 11. Rieko Ioane, 10. Beauden Barrett, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Akira Ioane, 7. Sam Cane, 6. Liam Squire, 5. Sam Whitelock, 4. Brodie Retallick, 3. Owen Franks, 2.Codie Taylor, 1. Joe Moody.
Reserves: 16. Nathan Harris, 17. Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19. Scott Barrett, 20. Ardie Savea, 21. TJ Perenara, 22. Damian McKenzie, 23. Jordie Barrett.
The tight five is a doddle to pick and probably will be through to the World Cup, although Codie Taylor will drop to the bench to make way for Dane Coles when he returns later this year.
It was equally simple to work out that Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett wear No 9 and No 10 respectively and while there are a number of options for the midfield, Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty have the experience and skills to stand out as the obvious selection.
The only areas of contention were the make up of the back three and the loose forwards. On the former, Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane are non-negotiable. They have to play - but the question was, in the case of Smith, where? He could stay in his preferred role of fullback and use Waisake Naholo on the right wing and Ioane on the left.
But the mix feels better with Smith on the right, Ioane on the left and Jordie Barrett at fullback. Barrett brings another goal kicking option, height to exploit with the cross kick strategy and a booming right boot to clear things up.
The loose forwards are all about the combination. The tricky choice was at No 8 with no Kieran Read. Liam Squire has played plenty of Super Rugby at No 8, is the most experienced of all the available options and should have enough conditioning to get through a test despite his lack of recent game time due to a thumb injury.
Akira Ioane can enter the series in game two or three from the bench. Sam Cane is head and shoulders the best openside and with Squire at No 8, Vaea Fifita brings the aggression and ball carrying they will need at blindside.
Starting XV: 15. Jordie Barrett, 14. Ben Smith, 13. Ryan Crotty, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 11. Rieko Ioane, 10. Beauden Barrett, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Liam Squire, 7. Sam Cane, 6. Vaea Fifita, 5. Sam Whitelock, 4. Brodie Retallick, 3. Owen Franks, 2. Codie Taylor, 1. Joe Moody.
Reserves: 16. Nathan Harris, 17. Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19. Luke Romano, 20. Ardie Savea, 21. TJ Perenara, 22. Richie Mo'unga, 23. Anton Lienert-Brown.