One area that the All Blacks selectors will be especially interested in making a decision on over the next month or so before the arrival of the British and Irish Lions is the team's midfield.

Players - and there are quite a lot in the mix following the departures of Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu - will get their opportunities to press for claims in Super Rugby and also the franchise matches against the tourists, which are likely to be nearly as tough as the tests. Injuries apart, the Lions will face the best players in the country twice a week leading up to the second test in Wellington, and that is a daunting prospect.

The All Blacks will be mindful as they build to the first test at Eden Park on June 24 that they have potentially only one match - against Manu Samoa - in order to get things right, so they'll be relying on two things - history, and they've shown trust in players who have been there and done that, and form. The selectors shown in last few years that if players have undisputed, regular, form they're prepared to pick them.

That's encouraging for players who know they have that opportunity to be what we would term a "bolter". In recent years Nehe Milner-Skudder fits that description.


For me, the midfield isn't a problem area for the All Blacks because they have plenty of options, but it could be an area of vulnerability because there isn't a truly regular combination.

Both Sonny Bill Williams and George Moala, the two starting Blues' midfielders, will be in the mix and there will be interest in how that combination goes.

Chiefs' player Anton Lienert-Brown started at No12 for the All Blacks last year and then showed he can play equally well at centre, while Crusader Ryan Crotty continues to be probably the most consistent midfielder in the country at No12.

Rieko Ioane at the Blues is versatile and can play centre or wing, while Malakai Fekitoa is a specialist centre. Throw into that mix Seta Tamanivalu who played centre for the All Blacks but is now playing on the wing for the Crusaders, and the uncapped Hurricanes' pair of Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso.

If you were asking experts to name their starting centres for the All Blacks over two years ago it would have been Nonu and Smith. I would suggest you would get a big variation in answers if you asked that question now.

The make-up of the reserves bench also interests me, particularly the backline. You look at someone like Jordie Barrett who is only 20 but can play anywhere from numbers 12-15. Importantly, if things are going a bit wobbly he could come on and kick goals which is a massive bonus.

The reason I focus on him is that when I'm talking about centres he could be in the picture for No12 - and I don't think that's a long-shot.

There is an opportunity for Laumape and/or Aso but in the context of this series it's unlikely they would be called up, although you never say never. More likely is a place on the end of year tour.


To finish, and this is a point which might attract debate, who do I think are the incumbents? I would say both SBW and Crotty have claims to the No12 jersey, the former due to his form pre-Achilles injury and the latter due to his consistency. Lienert-Brown is the incumbent centre.