Prediction: by the end of the coming Super Rugby season, Richie Mo'unga will be winning the battle with Damian McKenzie to be Beauden Barrett's understudy.

The quicksilver McKenzie is expected to start at first five-eighths for the new-look Chiefs this year while Mo'unga did enough on the November All Black tour to soften the blow of Lima Sopoaga's loss to European rugby.

Much will depend on form and, more crucially, how the All Black selectors view the make-up of their bench – one reason why Mo'unga could leapfrog McKenzie, especially if Barrett is unavailable for any reason.

Read more: McKenzie backs himself as pivot


McKenzie has few equals as a broken play runner. That will be attractive to selectors who have seen what Barrett's pace and ability in that area can do, as well as his effectiveness at taking on the defensive line. McKenzie will drop back to fullback to field kicks when the All Blacks do not have the ball and the selectors greatly like his counter-punching.

However, McKenzie's first international foray as a 10 – for New Zealand Maori against the Lions last year – was a fail and he was a bit of a mixed bag on the end of year tour.

So the little darter may not be a starter, consigned to bench duties because he can cover fullback, wing, first five and, at a pinch, halfback. It's in the last 20 minutes when his running can best put the scalpel to tiring defences. As an impact player when the game has opened up, his attacking instincts can be given full licence.

His future is said to be at No. 10 but, even before Sopoaga's journey to Wasps, it was difficult to see McKenzie ahead of Barrett, Sopoaga and now Mo'unga.

The door seems set to close at fullback too. Ben Smith, Israel Dagg and Jordie Barrett all return this year. Matt Duffie and David Havili are also challenging as winger/fullback/high ball merchants.

McKenzie's work at fullback is unwaveringly brave but he is vulnerable under the high ball at this level and sometimes too easily shrugged off by power athletes when last line of defence.

Both McKenzie and Mo'unga are ice-cool, highly reliable goalkickers – important, as Barrett isn't always. Mo'unga outplayed Barrett when the All Blacks took on the Barbarians in the first match of the tour last year, turning many a head.

He is an effective ball carrier, better than most at taking the ball to the line and creating a hole with deft distribution. His kicking from hand is the best out of the three contenders for the 10 jersey – certainly better than Barrett's.

Both Mo'unga and McKenzie are only 22; early indications are that Mo'unga has that imperturbable temperament needed at the top. He doesn't appear to have a panic button whereas McKenzie – though he could prove this eminently wrong this season – was shaky against the Lions, his playmaking stifled.

To be fair to him, so were most of his teammates that night.

Defensively, Mo'unga has ground to make up. McKenzie is surprisingly effective at close quarters, where No. 10s are often called on to tackle. He isn't so effective when a big, fast winger, for example, takes him to the edge of his speed limit – which is when he can be bumped off or falls off an attempted tackle.

Again, to be fair to him, you can say that about many players at international level. But that lack of size is most noticeable when defending in extremis.

McKenzie has the edge at kick-fielding and returning; Mo'unga is nowhere as adept, even prone to dropping the odd ball or two last year. That, however, is what training grounds are for and is more easily fixed.

The Chiefs could well provide options to solve another puzzle: the next All Black halfback.

Canterbury and Crusaders No. 9 Mitchell Drummond maybe has the inside running after his debut tour last year when he did not look out of place in an All Black career spanning only 10 minutes (as a sub in the match against a France XV). He is Mo'unga's partner in Super Rugby and has the knack of scoring tries.

However, the Chiefs will field former All Black Brad Weber (he got a sole 17 test minutes against Samoa in 2015) and "Triple T" – 22-year-old Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi. The latter had a bit of a nightmare for the Hurricanes in that 31-all draw with the Lions last year but has a robust game – important as Tawera Kerr-Barlow has shown many times the value of a defensively strong halfback.

Weber, like Aaron Smith, has a bullet pass – perhaps most desirable to selectors who want to advantage their backs – but is small. Lack of pass speed has helped keep the rugged Augustine Pulu out of consideration and even current deputy T J Perenara attracted some quizzical looks last year.

He is a dynamic runner but his passing often doesn't happen until he's taken a couple of steps – making intercepts more likely. That's not a good look when the Lions have shown opposing coaches how the All Blacks can be handicapped by rush defence.