The Vaea Fifita contention that All Blacks coach Steve Hansen didn't tell him the truth was fascinating – and not just because it was a rare breach in All Black unity.

It may have been a misunderstanding or a blip in the All Blacks' normally effective communications but it is also a function of the fact they are still short of depth in a few positions.

Here's the thing or, rather, two things:
1. Fifita is unquestionably a victim of being played out of position by the Hurricanes which seems to have been at least part of his loss of form.
2. He is also a victim of the fact that, as this column has remarked before, the All Blacks have shallow depth at lock behind Sam Whitelock (concussion problems earlier this season) and Brodie Retallick (just returned from injury).

True, that was written before Scott Barrett had his breakout Super Rugby season, clearly confirming his All Black credentials – but try and convince Fifita (or anybody else) that Highlanders' lock Jackson Hemopo is in the 33-man Rugby Championship squad as a blindside flanker, as maintained by Hansen.

Let's be clear: Fifita has been dropped and it is hard to see him making it back to the World Cup squad next year.

Why? Because those who can play No. 6 in the current squad include Liam Squire, newcomer Shannon Frizell, Ardie Savea (who regularly covers all three loose forward positions), Luke Whitelock and now – surprisingly – Hemopo. That's a lot of horse flesh to gallop past.

Why surprising? Because Hemopo is a lock and in the annals of modern All Black history there have been precious few bona fide locks who have played regular test rugby at loose forward. You could quote Jono Gibbes as one and maybe Troy Flavell as another, even though just two of his 22 tests were played at 6.

Flavell's second test at 6 was in 2001 when Australia won that famous 29-26 victory; he wasn't seen as a No. 6 again. He at least had the speed for the loose while the big-hearted Gibbes was neither big enough for an international lock nor athletic enough as a loose forward. He played six tests as a loosie but his real value was backing up at lock.

You can say the same thing about Hemopo (whose physical dimensions are almost identical to Gibbes', though he has more speed) and that's why you can feel sorry for Fifita. Being dropped is one thing. Being told to play more at 6 for Wellington but then realising that Hemopo was chosen as a 6 is a bit of a slap in the chops and you can understand his "truth" response.

I mean, if you want him to play more at 6, then, uh, select him and play him at 6. If the All Blacks feel he is not playing at a level for an international 6, is Frizell?

Maybe the All Black bosses let Fifita down a little too gently. Fellow selector Ian Foster said after Fifita expressed his disappointment publicly: "He went through a mixed Super season, mainly playing at lock, and we felt it was time for him to actually spend a bit more time at 6 to get to know that role really, really well.

"It's our intention that he's far from gone from this squad and we would love to see him come back in again pretty soon and if he hasn't quite understood that then we will go and clear that up."

Maybe that conversation should have gone a little more like this: "Look, lad, you've had an ordinary season, been played out of position, and we are going with someone else [Frizell]. We could have selected you as well but we are also bringing someone in [Hemopo] to cover lock – because we don't have many around at the moment."

Fifita is far from the finished product. Never mind that absolutely gobsmacking try last year when he outpaced almost the entire Pumas team, running so fast and so strongly that, if he hadn't been tipped over at the corner flag, you thought he might have just kept going, crashing through the fence at New Plymouth and clattering down the highway like a bolting horse.

But he's yet to prove he has real rugby smarts and the grunty bits of a loose forward's role – cleaning out, dominating in the tackle, ball carrying and so on.

Making the World Cup squad with all that to prove won't be easy, especially as (when the Rugby Championship squad was announced) Hansen said: "…last year was about growing depth - and we'll need to continue to do that in some positions - this year is more about growing our game and our player combinations within that. By the end of the year, we should have a clearer picture of who and what will be needed for next year's Rugby World Cup campaign."

That tends to make you think Fifita, raw talent and all, has a mountain bigger than Fujiyama to climb to get to Japan and the World Cup.

If he doesn't, it will go down as a rare failure of New Zealand's central contract system to identify such a talent and, between the Hurricanes and the All Blacks, to fall short of developing it.