The All Blacks would like to bring the midfield selection merry-go-round to a halt during the Rugby Championship. Ideally, they would like to see a combination emerge as obviously the strongest so they can build continuity and understanding in a critical area of the field.

Fate has conspired against them in their quest to build an established combination to replace the long-serving Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith who both retired at the end of 2015.

Injury, suspension and fluctuations in individual form have prevented the All Blacks from enjoying any kind of stability in their midfield since June last year. The selectors are no clearer now than they were 17 months ago as to who their preferred combination might be.

They have developed a wider group of midfielders but not a pecking order. They have managed to play good attacking rugby for the most part despite the constant changes, but they suspect they will play better if they can start the same two players over a number of tests.


They have consistency of selection in most other parts of the team and the time has come for the same to be said of their midfield.

But it may be a struggle at first because their quest for consistency has immediately been hampered by the judicial ruling that Sonny Bill Williams won't become available until the second Bledisloe Cup encounter in Dunedin.

Most likely the coaching team had been planning to return Williams to the No 12 shirt in Sydney with Ryan Crotty resuming at centre and Anton Lienert-Brown providing second half punch off the bench.

This was the pairing that started the first test against the British & Irish Lions and is the one that is probably deemed the first choice without necessarily having had the time to confirm that.

There's also a view - by no means definitive - that Lienert-Brown's skill set is well suited to being used off the bench where he can exploit the fact there is typically more space to be found later in the game.

Assuming the New Zealand Rugby Union aren't able to successfully appeal the Williams decisions, Crotty will presumably play second-five with Lienert-Brown at centre. The question, though, will be where do the selectors go after that first game when Williams becomes available again?

Do they restore him regardless, push Crotty to 13 and say to those two that they have an extended time to establish their combination? Or will Crotty and Lienert-Brown, who were last year about the only pairing that enjoyed some kind of regularity, be kept together if they play well in Sydney?

It's a question the All Blacks can't answer specifically but can generally with assistant coach Ian Foster suggesting that their selection decisions will be determined by performance.


"Often the answers find themselves out don't they?," he said. "We like to think we are really smart and have a great plan but last year we ended up bringing Anton in and he was a bit of a revelation. All we can do is prepare everyone to the best of their ability and give them an opportunity and leave it up to them.

"Yes there has been some chopping and changing and that brings its challenges but our expectations are that whoever goes out there plays at a top level whether it is their first test or 50th. Overall we are pretty happy."

If they can bed down a combination in the Rugby Championship, it will pave the way for the All Blacks to make greater use of the end of year tour where they have two games to supplement their three tests.

That will be the time for them to have a longer look at the likes of Ngani Laumape, Jack Goodhue and possibly Charlie Ngatai if he can stay injury free for a period.