Knowing what to do with those players soon-to-depart these shores is going to be one of the tougher selection issues for the All Blacks as the make their plans for 2017.

There are going to be a couple of 50:50 calls on the periphery of the squad that aren't going to be simple to make. What to do with Aaron Cruden, Charlie Faumuina and Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who are leaving for France once Super Rugby finishes?

All latter two have been All Blacks squad regulars for the last five years and in the case of Cruden, seven. Certainly Cruden and Faumuina have been hugely important members of the match day 23 for most of that period.

They are both experienced, gifted and for most of their time in the test arena, have made strong cases to be regular starters.


There's no reason to imagine that both Cruden and Faumuina, and also Kerr-Barlow who has been in strong early form for the Chiefs, will do anything to demerit their case for inclusion in the squad to play the Lions.

The All Blacks want to win the series. It is that simple. And to win it, they are going to have to play exceptionally well.

The Lions of 2017 are not going to be the same shambolic mess the Lions of 2005 were. They are not going to be full of past it Englishmen and led by a coach on the most self-indulgent ego trip.

Every reasonable assessment says the Lions have to be taken seriously; that they will have the potential to win the series.

There's nothing different about where things are poised in that regard. The All Blacks want to play well and win every test. And to achieve that goal, coach Steve Hansen will be driven by doing what he considers to be best for the team.

The question, though, is whether he and the other coaches deem it best for the team to pick players who won't be available beyond the Lions series. Would the All Blacks be better off, longer term, blooding the next contenders who sit behind, or perhaps level, with the likes of Cruden, Faumuina and Kerr-Barlow?

When the All Blacks picked their World Cup squad two years ago, Charles Piutau felt he was ultimately overlooked because he was leaving New Zealand after the tournament.

He perhaps had a point - he was in a hugely competitive battle to secure a wing spot and there was barely anything that separated him, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Waisake Naholo.

The fact Piutau was leaving may have been the deciding factor and the future career plans of individuals may again swing close decisions.

In the case of Cruden for instance, given the importance of having an experienced, capable and confident first-five to work alongside World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett, should Lima Sopoaga and or Damian McKenzie be given that back-up seat against the Lions?

What better way to get Sopoaga ready for the season ahead than to give him game time against the Lions? He's going to be heavily involved once Cruden goes, so why not make that transition sooner rather than later?

Against that, though, the case has to be made that Cruden, really, is the better test player right now. As great for Hansen as it would be to broaden Sopoaga's experience, Cruden already has all that and it would be a huge risk to not utilise him against the Lions. The goal is to win and to that end, Cruden is surely the right selection?

If the question is, who out of Cruden and Sopoaga is better prepared to deliver what the All Blacks will need against the Lions? Then the answer is Cruden.

The situation is much the same with Faumuina, who has job-shared the tighthead prop role with Owen Franks for five years. These two are a proven combination - Franks softens opponents up for the first 50 minutes and Faumuina comes on to finish them off in the last half hour.

Again, it seems that Faumuina is the right choice to play the Lions, but once he goes, the All Blacks are going to be short on experienced options to work with Franks.

They are going to miss Faumuina. His loss will hurt them in the short term as the next cab off the rank is Nepo Laulala - a good player with some international experience but a long way off being as composed and capable in the test arena as Faumuina.

But the Blues man is taking nothing for granted. "I have to be selected - and I know that is going to be harder now that I am going," he says. "There are also a few props playing good rugby. It would be great to get the opportunity but it was all part of the decision to go overseas. I understand if they don't pick me. That will be cool, but I'll be happy to play against the Lions."

If the case to include Cruden and Faumuina is strong, it's perhaps a different story at halfback. Given the quality of Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara, the All Blacks might pick just those two to play the Lions.

If they need a third due to injury, it will be easy enough to call one up and it might be that Augustine Pulu, who is in supreme form, is the man chosen.