Post-World Cup retirements mean there are many more All Black vacancies than usual this season.

As New Zealand's Super Rugby teams put the finishing touches on their season preparations, most players will appreciate the scale of opportunity this year presents.

This will be an open-door year, a chance for ambitious emerging talents and older war horses alike to stake a claim for a significant number of vacated All Blacks jerseys.

This will be a year of change, a new beginning for the All Blacks when they have to rebuild and evolve much the same way they had to in 2012.

The search begins from the first weekend of Super Rugby because, in mid-May, the All Blacks will most likely have a wider squad training camp. Experience has shown the coaches that it's best to back those with potential sooner rather than later. The pressures of being an All Black are intense and the current coaching regime like to select promising young talent and then gently increase their game-time over a 12-18 month period.


The Lions are coming in 16 months and the All Blacks have to be ready, which is why they are likely to pick a few new players for the three-test series against Wales in June and then introduce a few more on the end-of-year tour to the United States, Ireland, Italy and France.

The All Blacks also have to be conscious about having too much experience tied up in older legs. What they don't want is for senior players such as Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Ben Smith and Owen Franks to reach the end of 2018, hit the wall physically and then have to be replaced by younger players who have barely played.

A mix of experience, pace, youth and excitement wins World Cups and the All Blacks are constantly trying to maintain that balance.

To some extent, they will be pushed towards youth this year as much as pulled following the retirements of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock after the World Cup.

The so-called golden generation has gone and, while in most cases there are ready-made replacements, the All Blacks will be looking to rebuild depth.

"We go back into an information-gathering phase for six months to see who is coming through and keep an eye on Super Rugby and try to put the jigsaw together," All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said.

"If you look at 2011 to 2012, we changed 30 to 40 per cent of the team to the point where we arrived at the World Cup with 15 of the 31 who played at the last World Cup. If you keep that sort of mix, you get a nice balance."

The All Blacks start the year short of options in the front row and will be determined to find a young, dynamic loosehead to back up veteran Wyatt Crockett.

Ofa Tu'ungafasi at the Blues and Pauliasi Manu will be closely watched. The departure of Mealamu leaves them short of a proven third hooker, paving the way for Nathan Harris to establish himself as a test regular, or for Hika Elliot to try to prove he can step up.

The retirement of McCaw and the departures of Liam Messam and Victor Vito have left the All Blacks suddenly light at loose forward.

Steven Luatua appears destined to wear No 8 at the Blues and that may ease his passage back to the national team. Akira Ioane is a short-odds selection for the end-of-year tour, as is Ardie Savea if they can flit successfully between XVs and sevens.

Dixon, if he can play as well as he did last year, will be hard to leave out and Brad Shields should see this season as his best chance to finally force his way in. Both Liam Squires and Luke Whitelock have shifted to the Highlanders and are potential wildcards.

The biggest hole to fill, though, is in the midfield. Nonu and Conrad Smith have gone and Sonny Bill Williams is committed to playing sevens until at least late-August.

The All Blacks are renowned for seamlessly replacing players, but to lose so much experience and talent in one area presents a stiff challenge.

"If you look at the midfield specifically then, yes, it is going to be a challenge," said Foster. "We are losing two special players who have been the backbone on and off the park for a long, long time. Conrad, with his leadership off the park, was huge. It will be strange to be without them. When Ma'a's firing bullets, he's impossible to contain.

"But then you look through who we have got: Ryan Crotty, who has played a number of tests, Malakai [Fekitoa], who has been sitting there waiting for an opportunity, and we have still got the likes of Sonny when he gets back from sevens.

"We have a raft of other guys who we know are coming through the Super Rugby system. It will be different, but different is not necessarily bad."

Those 'other' guys include George Moala, who is reinventing himself as a Nonu-esque No 12, Rene Ranger, who has returned from France much the same high-impact player he was when he left in 2013, and Seta Tamanivalu at the Chiefs, who could set the competition on fire if he can stay injury free.