If Gareth Evans is the answer – or might be – what was the question?

Easy: where the hell have all the international-class openside flankers gone?

Evans' strong display in the Hurricanes defeat of the Chiefs – even though he has been playing No. 8 for most of the season – brought him into calculations as a third No. 7 behind Sam Cane and Ardie Savea, especially as he largely outplayed Cane last night.


But Matt Todd's departure to Japan at the end of the Super Rugby season provokes yet another question (when have the openside flanker stocks been so low?)— made more urgent by the fact all three All Black incumbents have doubts of varying intensity attached to them.

Cane has had a couple of bad head knocks lately; Savea has not quite come on as hoped in terms of pushing for top spot. Todd says he will return to New Zealand to be eligible for next year's World Cup, but you wonder if a season in Japan is the best preparation for a World Cup in, er, Japan.

Savea has also clouded matters by opting for only a one-year New Zealand Rugby contract – a tactic leading many to conclude he will head overseas after the World Cup, like brother Julian.

His move could be more designed to take advantage of the renegotiation of the players' collective agreement at the end of this year. The Super Rugby TV deal will also be back on the table next year, expected to bring more money to the player pool.

So if Savea had agreed to, say, a three-year contract, he might miss out on any largesse heading his way after those agreements. Better to go year by year and then see what's on offer – here and abroad.

Cane and Savea were the only two No. 7s named in the All Blacks' 33-man squad to take on the French last month. By contrast, there were five blindside flankers and/or No. 8s – Luke Whitelock, the recovering Liam Squire, Jordan Taufua (named as an All Black but yet to play and confirm his ascension) Shannon Frizell and Vaea Fifita, all to help fill the gap left by Kieran Read.

But if Cane and Savea are unavailable, who now is the number three No. 7?

It seems unconscionable we even have to ask that question. Openside flankers – even before Richie McCaw (genuflect, genuflect, all hail etc) – have been a world-leading strength of New Zealand and All Black rugby. Behind every Michael Jones, Josh Kronfeld, McCaw and Graham Mourie were a whole host of talented No. 7s who would have served their country proud - but often had less chance to do so.


Scott Robertson, current coach of the Crusaders, often played second fiddle to Kronfeld. Ken Stewart was overshadowed first by Ian Kirkpatrick and then Mourie – before himself overshadowing Kevin Eveleigh. Paul Henderson was unfortunate to play most of his rugby in the Jones era while Marty Holah was sandwiched between All Black captains Taine Randell and McCaw.

In an earlier time, Waka Nathan was chosen ahead of Wellington terrier Graham Williams whose dimensions, at 1.83m and 89kg, show how the physical requirements of the position have changed.

Cane was 101kg when he came into the All Blacks but look at his body shape now. He has bulked up noticeably and apparently approaches 110kg, almost a 10 per cent weight gain to make him more effective in the collision phases and closer to McCaw's playing weight.

The main candidates for the third spot seemed to be Dillon Hunt and Blake Gibson, both "small" at about 102kg. Hunt's All Black career consists of 10 minutes against a French XV on last year's end of year tour; interestingly, he was left out of the Highlanders' quarter-final to play the Waratahs this weekend, with the 7 spot going to James Lentjes.

Hunt's main attribute is his tackling, with his ball carrying perhaps not quite up to snuff yet. Gibson has more talent in that area but has suffered from injury and maybe a star dimming with the Blues' woeful seasons.

Last night's strong showing by the Hurricanes' Evans (still only 26 and about 105kg) added another definite possibility. Taufua could conceivably cover all three loose forward positions – but none tick all the boxes of a modern openside: defence, turnovers, ball carrying and link play.

One who might is Chiefs tyro Luke Jacobson. A star of the New Zealand under-20 scene, he is primarily a 6 but his impressive play this year has made it look as though 7 is not out of the question, and he has more of the physique required.

But there's this thing called Hofstadter's Law which goes: It always takes longer than you think, even if you take Hofstadter's Law into account. It's taken, for example, six years to turn Cane into the player he is now. It may not take that long to find and equip the next No. 7 – but Japan 2019 is uncomfortably close.