There used to be nothing but hearts in mouths when the All Blacks suffered an injury at first-five as for the better part of a decade they only had the one player who could do the job.

For what felt like an age - 2004 to 2012 - there was Daniel Carter and no one else - as if he had sucked up every available development resource leaving none for anyone else.

It was an interminably edgy time. Every bump and bruise Carter suffered invoked a mild panic - a sense of dread about what would happen if he had to go off or miss the next game.

Throughout that era there was little certainty about who would take his place if it came to it and such was the state of affairs that in 2005, for the deciding match of the Tri Nations against South Africa, Leon MacDonald started at first-five having not played there since his teens.


But that period of spinning the wheel and not knowing whose name would come up has been confined to history.

The days of New Zealand having a fault in their No 10 production line are long gone which is why there has been no endless fretting or uneasiness to greet the news that Beauden Barrett is not available to play the Wallabies in Brisbane.

Instead there is a quiet level of intrigue and optimism as to what Lima Sopoaga will bring to the role in his second start after a handful of useful cameos this year.

There is no sense of unease or nervousness that the All Blacks are about to be horribly exposed. There is no wondering whether the gameplan will fall apart or be vastly different without their first choice play-maker being on the park.

It's not like how it was back in Carter's heyday when it was a national emergency - think here the 2011 World Cup - if ever he was injured.

Since 2012 the All Blacks have had genuine depth at first-five. Far from being a position of weakness, it has become an area of quite incredible strength.

Between 2012 and 2015 both Aaron Cruden and Barrett developed quickly and beyond expectation - a situation forced by Carter's continual injury troubles. Colin Slade also played high quality rugby and was another option at first-five and the All Blacks effectively had four genuine options at No 10 by 2014.

It's not so different now. Barrett is the clear number one, but Sopoaga is a quality player who has shown himself to be of genuine test quality.

By this time next year, assuming he enjoys a season at No 10 for the Chiefs, Damian McKenzie will be another option, while Richie Mo'unga, called up this week as injury cover, steered the Crusaders to a Super Rugby title and has a test future.

So what has happened? How come New Zealand has gone from only having one No 10 to a constant supply?

"I think when you look at the 10s, sometimes when you have got a Dan Carter at the top of the tree people look at all the others and think there is a big void there," says All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster.

"But often once you take someone away and give other people an opportunity, they come through. I think we saw that clearly with Crudes and Beauden and by giving them the opportunity to experience test match rugby, they got a lot of gains out of that.

"I think we are also getting guys into Super Rugby generally a couple of years earlier than we used to. And it is a demanding championship where they have got to learn game management and to a certain degree we are seeing the reward of that.

"I guess the other thing that I like is that is that we are seeing a few players taking their time. No 10 often takes time and we see a lot of young talented 10s come in young set the world on fire but once people figure out that they can stop their natural running game or whatever it is, they force the 10 to become more of a strategic manager, that is when some players in the past have fallen over.

"We are probably getting a little bit better at working through that. If you look at the likes of Lima who has developed beautifully over the years. He has done a great job with the Highlanders and is now starting to settle with us."

There's maybe one other critical factor that has helped the first-five stocks replenish. The national team and Super Rugby sides have worked in closer alignment in regard to the
sorts of skills they both expect of a play-maker.

There is now agreement between all five Super Rugby clubs and the All Blacks about what core skills a first-five should possess.

"We have got a bit more specific about the core skills that we want them to have and have a good relationship with the franchises so we can talk to them about what we want," says Foster.

"We have probably got greater alignment about what we want out of 10s. Because in the past we have tended to adapt to our game based on the skill set of the No 10 at the time. Whereas we have kind of figured that if we can have our No 9s and 10s doing a few of those same things there is a better chance of taking our game up a level.

"If you look at the way the modern game is run and you ask what you want out of your 10...yes we want decision makers and yes we want them to have a voice as well as do the basic things of run, catch and pass."