The All Black selectors have done their job, now it's our turn.

There are more choices now that the trimmed down Karl Tu'inukuafe has bulked up the squad numbers and we can start plotting which XV and subs bench will be picked for the opening Eden Park test against France.

Another twist or three is bound to occur because players have to negotiate more Super Rugby, then their national training commitments before the June 9 international.

There's also pressure on the selectors and the medics who have to make rational assessments and long-term judgments rather than emotional decisions.


Outstanding lock Sam Whitelock is the man to lead the All Blacks in Kieran Read's injury absence.

However, he's battling concussion symptoms.

Nothing major we're told but he's not feeling right after getting up to speed on the training track and has been pulled from the Crusaders' last few matches.

Midfield back Ryan Crotty and Vaea Fifita are suffering similar troubles, vice-captain Sam Cane is hampered by a strain, Jordan Taufua was a late non-starter last night, Tim Perry has done a hamstring, Liam Squire is being tried from the subs bench after repeat thumb problems and deputy hooker Nathan Harris is waiting for a parental call-up.

More damage or suspensions and the squad will start looking a little thin in numbers.

Not light on talent though when you consider those who didn't make the cut.

Our job is to pick from the official group and think how the All Blacks selectors will approach their work.

They'll want their strongest side on Eden Park using combinations who have a proven track record under pressure for the All Blacks and are fit and still in the frame.


Think Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty in midfield, players who have missed chunks of this season through injury and whose roles are being hunted by the young strike-power of Ngani Laumape, Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown.

If the senior pros are cleared, they'll get first crack at France.

Same with Ben Smith.

Ben Smith is a guaranteed starter. Photo / Photosport
Ben Smith is a guaranteed starter. Photo / Photosport

He sat out the end of year trip to Europe but is a certainty in the back three just as Owen Franks, Joe Moody and Brodie Retallick who missed the same tour will be in the pack.

The loose forward arrangement is the greatest puzzle. Read's encouraging report after disc surgery suggests he'll return at the tail-end of Super Rugby but picking his No8 replacement is a murky assignment.

Do the selectors decide to go with Cane and Squire as their primary flankers and pick a stand-in No8 or do they juggle the combinations and use Cane or Squire in the forward boot so they can assess others?

Duties at No8 are bedrock for the team's direction and Luke Whitelock and Taufua bring options if the All Blacks continue to need deputies while Cane and Squire should be left to showcase their skills in their primary positions.

So with a bounce of the medical ball and a look into the future here is the side to open up against France: Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Working out the subs bench might be more difficult.