Evidence about the layers of All Black quality came through the performances during this month's series with France.

It was most noticeable in the loose-forwards where the challenge is to find the best combinations to take over from that peerless group of Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino who led the All Blacks through the 2011 and 2015 World Cup triumphs.

New Zealand is blessed with ample choices who compete strongly on the international stage but the trick has been finding the most complete blend of talents and getting them all on to the park at the same time.

Captain Kieran Read was out of the reckoning because of injury and the experienced Sam Cane was underdone after a lengthy layoff while Liam Squire had not played a great deal after breaking his thumb.


Cane got past some blood-bin damage then being subbed in the opening test but struggled to back up at the Cake Tin where Squire damaged his shoulder. That toll exposed the backup which was a level down on quality.

Luke Whitelock, Shannon Frizell and Ardie Savea got the starting trick for the final test in Dunedin but as a unit and on individual assessment they would not stand out in any comparison with other test sides.

An early ankle injury cost Savea his chance to convince the All Black panel his game had improved from the levels where he dropped off the bench last season and his replacement Matt Todd then showed he could be relied on in a crisis.

But there was a sameness about all of them as a collection of competent loose forwards without a stellar touch. Whitelock, Frizell, Savea, Todd and Vaea Fifita washed around without creating extra interest while Jackson Hemopo caused ripples when he was picked from left field.

A fit mix of Read, Cane and Squire is on another plane, they play with an expressive authority which sets them apart and will give trouble to any opposition this year.

Keeping them at their peak and out of the casualty ward will be a key component for the All Blacks just as the return of outstanding lock Brodie Retallick will bring another dimension to the pack.

His replacement, Scott Barrett, enhanced his reputation throughout the series and provided a surety which was not as evident across the backup loosies.

The next month is huge for every-one trying to get into the squad for the Rugby Championship but especially in the loose forwards. Some who did not figure in June such as Jordan Taufua, who lost his chance through injury, and Akira Ioane who was on standby, have the chance to make a late statement.


Or perhaps someone else will rival prop Karl Tu'inukuafe for mystery when the squad is announced.