Ngani Laumape's rapid improvement from a bruising ball-runner in the Hurricanes' midfield to a player with subtlety and variation has earned him a surprise call-up to the 33-player All Blacks squad.
The 24-year-old, a former Warriors player, has been creating havoc for Chris Boyd's defending champions all season after returning to rugby last season, but few saw a space for him in the All Blacks squad ahead of regular additions Malakai Fekitoa and George Moala.
But Steve Hansen and his fellow selectors have seen enough. They feel Laumape is a direct player and a potential point of difference in the All Blacks' midfield and Hansen and co will back themselves to accelerate the player's improvement over the next few weeks.
The All Blacks assemble in Auckland on Sunday ahead of the first test against the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park on June 24, with Sonny Bill Williams a certainty to start in the No12 jersey should he remain healthy, and, according to assistant coach Ian Foster, Ryan Crotty a possibility to be fit for that test.
Crotty is unavailable for the Crusaders' match against the Lions on Saturday due to a rib injury but will hope to be in the mix for the first test.
Of all the decisions the selectors had to make, the midfield mix was the toughest. Chiefs player Anton Lienert-Brown is the other player included in that group. Interestingly, the selectors have gone for uncapped Crusaders 21-year-old Jack Goodhue as midfield injury cover.
"Twelve months ago we were struggling to find enough midfielders, and people like Mala have been great servants to the All Blacks," Hansen said following the announcement at Auckland's Mt Roskill Grammar school. "Some very good players have missed out; George Moala is another one."
Laumape's form meant he had to be included, Hansen said. "He's been a standout hasn't he? For a young man who's just come back to rugby after spending a bit of time in the wilderness playing league, to have him playing as well as he is is great for New Zealand rugby and a credit to him and Boydy at the Hurricanes.
"If he's not leading [Super Rugby] line breaks he's pretty high up, and he's the leading try scorer."
Assistant coach Ian Foster said Laumape's improvement was the key to his selection. "He started last year and really was probably just a really solid ball carrier," Foster said. "Now he's bringing a variation to his running lines, his support play is outstanding, and you can see his combination with Beaudy [Barrett] has enabled both to play really well. He's a little unique in comparison with our other midfielders."
Of Goodhue, outstanding for the Crusaders during their unbeaten season, Hansen said: "Jack's probably got the nod due to his ability to put people in space, especially in a two-on-one situation. He's very, very accurate for a young player. His skillset's probably a little higher than Mala's, but again, it was a tough decision."
The other uncapped player is Jordie Barrett, an outside back who joins brothers Scott and Beauden, the first time three brothers have been picked in an All Blacks squad.
Hansen said of the reason behind Jordie's selection: "Form. His performances for the Hurricanes have been outstanding, and when you're ready you're ready.
"We found out a lot about Scotty Barrett, his brother, and how he copes with pressure. Jordie coming away last year [as an apprentice], I think we're getting the dividends of that. He had a taste of what it's like without the pressure, and we think he's ready to step in and face whatever's chucked at him."
The other unlucky players are Blues lock Steven Luatua, outstanding last night against the Lions. Hansen said the fact that Luatua was moving to England meant the selectors had to go for Akira Ioane as injury cover instead as both were in similar form.
Wing Nehe Milner-Skudder just hasn't played enough rugby and will further his recovery from a foot injury while playing the New Zealand Maori against the Lions in Rotorua on June 17.
Hooker Dane Coles has been picked in order to try to get some condition into him following his ongoing concussion issues. He won't play in the first two Lions test at least.
Hansen said: "With concussion you don't want to get ahead of yourself. It's all about how he's going. He could come right tomorrow, you just don't know."
All Blacks squad:
Backs: Ben Smith, Jordie Barrett, Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Ngani Laumape, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Forwards: Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Jerome Kaino, Liam Squire, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Joe Moody, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris.