Possibly the most intriguing selection decision the All Blacks face in Argentina is what to do at second five-eighth.

One can probably assume Anton Lienert-Brown will start at centre, with Ryan Crotty given the week off alongside other senior statesmen.

Lienert-Brown was exceptional off the bench against the Boks; light on his feet, evasive, strong. While more than comfortable at second-five, where he has featured frequently for the Chiefs, the All Blacks feel his natural outside break is better suited one wider.

This week at least, the choice between incumbent Sonny Bill Williams and Ngani Laumape to partner Lienert-Brown does not appear so straightforward.


On the face of it the timing seems right to hand Laumape his second test start. He's only had four minutes off the bench against Argentina in New Plymouth since his impressive starting debut in the third Lions test at Eden Park. Four minutes in two-and-a-half months is hardly enough to push your case.

Visions of his audacious pass to Lienert-Brown in the drawn Lions decider which set up Jordie Barrett's try will long be etched in the memory. Laumape was also on hand to latch onto Barrett's tap back for the opening try as the two rookies shone on the big stage.

These instances encapsulate the anticipation and confidence that underpinned Laumape's breakout season with the Hurricanes. This year he was undeniably New Zealand's form No 12.

He was destructive, fast, brutal and, even, subtle at times. He was unstoppable close to the line and so often gave the Hurricanes front-foot ball with direct simplicity.

Elements of his game remain raw but his distribution, decision-making and defence all improved markedly in 2017, culminating in his rise above Malakai Fekitoa and George Moala.

Form isn't everything when it comes to the All Blacks, though. They have been clear all along Williams and Crotty, with their experience and balance, are the preferred midfield combination. That pairing will almost certainly start against the Boks in Cape Town next week; still viewed as the All Blacks' toughest Rugby Championship fixture.

So why not give Laumape a chance and then bring Williams back?

Williams has been more solid than spectacular this season. His late start to the year after Achilles surgery, coupled with niggles and a month-long suspension, haven't helped build consistency. This complicates matters somewhat as the All Blacks may believe Williams needs game-time.

To date his best match of the season came for the Blues against the British and Irish Lions where he scored a try from a penalty which hit the post, and in combination with Steven Luatua helped lay on the stunning match-winner for Ihaia West. In between times his carries were telling.

But elsewhere he's been patchy. His combination with Beauden Barrett hasn't quite gelled, emphasised no more than the second Bledisloe Cup victory in Dunedin where Williams appeared to get his timing wrong on a number of occasions.

He performed well against the Pumas in New Plymouth; charging hard, defending strongly and keeping things simple. But even in the romp over the Boks errors were evident in his work.

It only strengthened the urge to see Laumape given another, proper crack. He's been patient with Williams afforded every chance to stamp his authority. Laumape's familiarity with Barrett is factor in his favour, though it could make for a green backline with David Havili likely to make his debut at fullback.

Starting Williams from the bench could also serve another purpose. It was, after all, a role he performed brilliantly behind Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith at the 2015 World Cup.

In the All Blacks opening match against the Pumas at Wembley, Williams came on to deliver an influential hand. He did so again after replacing Smith at half time in the final against the Wallabies.

Williams has started all seven tests he's featured in this year but it's hard to see the harm in assessing his worth off the bench. If the All Blacks are struggling in Buenos Aires he can easily be injected at any time.

Like all rotation selections this week the scales will be weighed with risk and reward in mind. The All Blacks know they must first win this test but, clearly, development is a major focus too.

If progressing deputies is, indeed, the main driver, then letting Laumape loose appeals.​