Of all the positions occupying the minds of the All Blacks selectors in the lead-up to next month's French series, it will be the loose forwards who probably concern them the most.

The main issue is test experience or lack of it among those New Zealand No8s and flankers who are playing well.

There's no shortage of talent in this area, but because test rugby is a different challenge in terms of pace, intensity and scrutiny, the selectors are always wary about placing too many inexperienced players together in a combination.

They will be watching the next three rounds of Super Rugby with a rising sense of anxiety least someone else — most notably captaincy prospect Sam Cane and the rugged Ardie Savea — fall over.


Skipper and No8 Kieran Read, who has played 109 tests, has already been ruled out due to his back surgery last year.

Openside flanker Cane (53 tests) has been kept from the Chiefs tour of South Africa due to an abdominal strain. Cane should play the first test at Eden Park on June 9.

Liam Squire (only 15 tests, but a player who is increasingly dependable) is out of action for the Highlanders due to a broken thumb that had to be re-set.

It's all adding up to what is likely to be a stressful few months for the All Black selectors, who could decide to select Squire in their squad even if the 27-year-old is unavailable for the first test.

Jerome Kaino may even be an outside chance of a call-up despite his recent hamstring injury, advancing years — he's 35 — and the fact he is leaving for France at the end of the Blues' season.

Hurricanes pair Savea and Vaea Fifita are almost certain inclusions in All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's squad of 33.

He is likely to pick six loose forwards. Blues No8 Akira Ioane and Highlander Luke Whitelock are also strong possibilities, with men such as Jordan Taufua at the Crusaders and Gareth Evans at the Hurricanes also in the mix. Matt Todd is a specialist openside at the Crusaders.

Of those, Taufua has been consistently good with and without the ball and Evans has proven to be a revelation after moving to Chris Boyd's team from the Highlanders.


"He's a very capable footballer," Boyd said of 26-year-old Evans after his side's 36-15 win over the Blues at Eden Park. "He's got a very good understanding of defensive lineouts which you saw in the corner there which he pinched [late in the game] which was crucial.

Gareth Evans has had a strong season with the Hurricanes. Photo / Photosport
Gareth Evans has had a strong season with the Hurricanes. Photo / Photosport

"I don't know who they [All Blacks] are going to pick at No6 or No7 — loose forwards are about combinations," Boyd said. "It's whether they want a physical presence at No8 or if they want athleticism or a defensive No8.

"Gareth has a good balance in his attack and defence. He's not physical or brutal like, say, Akira is. Luke Whitelock is an example of a good defending No8. Gareth is a really good all-rounder."

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