For Wyatt Crockett, this week represents a victory, if not a breakthrough.

The Crusaders loosehead prop has retained his position in the All Blacks starting XV despite the return to fitness of incumbent Tony Woodcock.

It is a significant achievement for the unassuming 30-year-old, and, rather than highlighting Woodcock's lack of form - the Highlanders player did all expected of him once replacing Crockett for the final 18 minutes in Christchurch - it showcases the depth and competition among the big men up front.

It is also an acknowledgment of complete faith in Crockett by the All Blacks selectors that his scrummaging problems are in the past.


The tall - at 1.93m, he is the same height as No8 Kieran Read - and immensely strong player has always been one of the best props in New Zealand around the park. His ball handling is excellent and while his defence this season hasn't been quite as destructive as it has in the recent past, his relative agility for a prop means he doesn't miss many.

Crockett has played 13 tests compared with the 97 caps won by the 32-year-old Woodcock, the All Blacks' most capped prop. Woodcock's greatest strength has been his consistency, but injuries have impinged on his form this season, and while he will feature in the Rugby Championship, another strong performance by Crockett in New Plymouth will make it difficult for the All Blacks selectors to drop him.

It's a fantastic position for Steve Hansen and Co to be in and the competition extends way beyond Crockett and Woodcock. Owen Franks has been solid for the All Blacks this series - his potentially brutal defence went up several notches in Christchurch, and Ben Franks, on the reserves bench at Yarrow Stadium, has been in superb form for the Hurricanes after moving to Wellington from the Crusaders.

Ben Afeaki won a deserved first cap in Auckland after coming on for Crockett in the final minutes of the first test.

Outside of those five, the Hurricanes' Jeff Toomaga-Allen suffered the misfortune of a serious knee injury only days after being named in the first All Blacks squad last month, and Chiefs tighthead Ben Tameifuna, involved with the national team last year but yet to make his debut, is one of the strongest scrummagers in Super 15. Charlie Faumuina, who has been replaced by the Blues this season because of persistent calf troubles, has been training with the All Blacks this week.

Hooker remains an issue, of course. Dane Coles' withdrawal this week with a calf strain means the old guard of Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu are back. Beyond them it's hard to know where the next All Blacks hooker will come from, but Coles at least has started his test career well.

Coles isn't as big as Hore or Mealamu but the All Blacks scrum hasn't suffered as a result - something for which Crockett must share in the credit.