If there already are best laid plans for the All Blacks midfield this year, they may have to be reconsidered in the next few months.

They are certainly going to have to endure robust scrutiny and review because just a few weeks into the Super Rugby season and it is apparent that the young guard of Ngani Laumape, Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown are determined to make a compelling case that their time is now.

Goodhue in particular has been impossible to ignore so far this year. The Crusaders centre finds a way to get into the game, to run into space, to pass at the right time and to make tackles that matter.

He's assured, bold and clear about what he wants to do and he has this undefinable look of an All Black.


All Blacks coach Steve Hansen doesn't necessarily disagree but he and his fellow selectors, without closing their minds or making an inflexible commitment, are most likely thinking that Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty are going to be their preferred midfield come June and the one which they will look to build throughout this year.

As Hansen has said, 2018 is the year in which he will look to embed and develop combinations through consistency of selection.

This is the year the All Blacks want to tighten the screw as it were and build that cohesion and fluidity which comes when players have confidence in those around them.

The All Blacks are looking for players to have an instinctive connection, an innate understanding of one another and a near unconscious flow of decision-making.

All Black Jack Goodhue during training with the All Blacks in 2017. Photo by Greg Bowker
All Black Jack Goodhue during training with the All Blacks in 2017. Photo by Greg Bowker

History has shown that the best teams have experienced individuals working in experienced combinations.

At the 2015 World Cup their preferred midfield combination of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith had almost 200 caps between them and a world record midfield partnership of 61 tests.

The All Blacks loose trio in 2015 of Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read had almost 300 caps between them and 33 tests as a combination.

Williams and Crotty are easily the most experienced midfielders in contention - with the latter having 46 caps and the former 35.

Their combination of 11 tests together, which stretches back to 2014, is also the most established in the country.

Everything points in their direction. Williams and Crotty could reach the World Cup with more than 100 caps between them and 25 or so as a combination if they are backed through this year and next.

Statistically, they are the only two on track to reach the World Cup with the requisite combined security of experience and understanding.

Williams has become a defensive monster at test level and Crotty is a supremely accurate player who does the basics with an unrivalled intensity and precision.

There is a huge amount to like about what they bring as individuals and as a combination and it is not possible to put a value on the experience they have.

And yet, for all that Williams and Crotty scream out as the right pairing, there is something about the way Goodhue plays at centre for the Crusaders that must make everyone wonder what would happen if the All Blacks chucked their plan out the window and backed the youngster to be their World Cup No 13?

It would be risky, crazy even, but the potential reward is tempting. Look how well things worked out for the All Blacks at the World Cup when they were brave enough to pick Nehe Milner-Skudder in his rookie professional season.

No doubt the selectors began this year saying privately that it would take a compelling reason for them to deviate from the Williams-Crotty combination.

It's early in the season but three games in and Goodhue is on track to challenge the established thinking.