Here we are now in the last week of the 2017 season and the narrative for most of the last four months has been how deeply the All Blacks have had to dig into their talent pool.

With the likes of Kane Hames, Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Damian McKenzie having been match-day regulars since the Rugby Championship began, it does indeed feel like the All Blacks have been forced to pick players who didn't begin the year pencilled in to be starters at any stage in 2017.

The All Blacks have had a bad year with injury and personal tragedies. At home are Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody, Brodie Retallick, Jerome Kaino, Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Jordie Barrett.

That's six of last year's first choice pack and with the exception of Rieko Ioane, arguably their four best outside backs.


But it would perhaps be more accurate to suggest that what has happened this year is that the All Blacks have been forced to dig deep in specific areas rather than across their whole team.

They have had to discover who sits three and four on their list at prop and have had to burrow just as far, if not further into their outside back stocks.

They have, however, enjoyed a semblance of almost unprecedented continuity in some areas. Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett have started 11 of the 13 tests together and it should become 12 as both are likely to be picked this week.

Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty have played eight tests together as a midfield pairing and are expected to make it nine in Cardiff.

The loose trio has had a stability of sorts: Sam Cane has started 12 tests, Kieran Read 13 and Liam Squire five.

If Read is passed fit to play this weekend it will feel that the All Blacks have bedded in a preferred back row that has grown and developed as a unit in 2017.

Should Read not be able to play, Luke Whitelock, as a renowned specialist No 8, would come into the reckoning to start and if he does, that would take to 45 the number of players used by the All Blacks in 2017.

That would seem like an inordinately high number to use in a calendar year but it is not so far out of the typical range.

The All Blacks used 40 players last year - 10 of whom had never played test football before.

This year the All Blacks are on track to use 10 per cent more players, but they have only seen four make their debut in 2017 - and two of them, Jordie Barrett and Vaea Fifita toured Europe last year as All Blacks.

The All Blacks used 41 players in 2015 although that was a deliberate plan to give an extended squad fair chance at pressing their respective claims for World Cup inclusion.

So using a total of 45 players is not off the scale, but what has made it feel so, is not just the clusters that have occurred in specific positions, but the volume of experience that has been denied the All Blacks this year.

The group of nine players currently injured at home have around 450 test caps between them.

If Read can't play this weekend, the All Blacks starting pack is likely to have about 225 caps between them. The backs, with the likely inclusion of Seta Tamanivalu on the wing for the injured Ioane, will have about 240 caps between them.

So with almost as many caps at home not playing as there will be on view in Cardiff, it is easy to see why the All Blacks feel this year they have been digging deeper than most.

The narrative is mostly accurate in intent if not detail.