These next few weeks are big ones for the emerging generation of All Blacks. Sam Cane, Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden have waited in the shadows, desperate to be custodians of test jerseys they have coveted.

They, and others such as Dane Coles, Brodie Retallick and Aaron Smith, want to be the men to whom their All Blacks teammates look to in troubled times. They want to be the key influences in a new chapter and prove they can handle and own the pressure of test football as well as the men who went before them did.

The next few weeks of Super Rugby will reveal plenty about the mental strength and composure of these aspiring leaders. Reputations can be made, solidified or tainted.

There are others with possibly more on the line - such as Malakai Fekitoa, Julian Savea, Seta Tamanivalu and Damian McKenzie who are playing with points to prove ahead of the Rugby Championship.


Savea's challenge is obvious - he needs to find his confidence and run with the freedom of old.

Fekitoa's position is not so black and white. He'll be in the squad, but at the moment, the All Blacks selectors will be thinking hard about playing George Moala at centre in the first Rugby Championship game.

Fekitoa needs to give the selectors reasons to swing their thinking back towards him and he can do that by coming off the line fast and hard and trusting his instincts on defence.

When he gets the balance right on attack between distributing and taking the contact, he becomes a constant threat. He hasn't been as physically dominant and intimidating as he would like this campaign and the Highlanders haven't been quite the same force as a result.

Now is his time to put his season back on track and to clear up the midfield pecking order.

And maybe the other player with the biggest case to press is McKenzie. He didn't get to play in June, but he can show he listened to everything he was told in camp by taking a less frantic, more measured approach.

He can deliver from first receiver what the All Blacks coaches said they wanted from him and display the sort of maturity and accuracy under pressure that would go a long way to helping prove he has the temperament to be a long term All Black.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen made it clear after the 3-0 clean sweep of Wales that he will be a keen observer of the last weeks of Super Rugby. He saw last year how players such as Lima Sopoaga and Elliot Dixon imposed themselves in the playoffs. Both lifted their performances and Sopoaga especially showed the authority and clarity that enabled the All Blacks to feel confident handing him a test debut at Ellis Park.

"There's a lot of rugby to be played particularly home derbies and we all know they are pretty intense and physical," said Hansen. "If we get injuries we will definitely have to go outside [the current squad], but the guys who have been here have done a good job and are putting their hand up. It is up to the people who weren't here to really show us over finals football that they want to be here, too."

Playoffs are a test of character and Hansen will be interested to see who takes control. He will be watching to see who wants to get their hands on the ball and make a contribution.

Who will back themselves, take a few risks and accept the consequences if things go wrong? In the All Blacks' world, a mind-set of not making mistakes doesn't sit well as that effectively means players aren't giving much. It usually means they are hiding and that's a long way from the "who dares wins" mantra that was adopted at the World Cup.

The next few weeks are a time for players to be bold and decisive. A time for players to show they can be calm yet direct: involved but not desperate.

"No one is really putting their hand up and saying 'I am not up to this'," was Hansen's assessment after the June series. "Some guys have taken to it probably a little quicker than others but overall everybody including Damian [McKenzie] who didn't get a game, have shown us on the training pitch that they are worthy of being here and everyone other than Damian and Charlie [Ngatai] played and showed us they were up to it.

"They have got to go back to their franchises and continue to play well and we are getting to the business end of Super Rugby and you will see how people cope with that mentally and we will get some answers out of that, too.

"You don't want them getting injured but the hard rugby will be good because you get a lot of answers about them at this time of year."

This is the next generation's time to say they have the stuff to replace the departed Golden Generation.