Nepo Laulala's extraordinary return to rugby after seven months away will result in a recall to the All Blacks for their tour to Japan and Europe.
It will be a welcome comeback for a player who has suffered terrible misfortune with injury and one, in combination with the returning Joe Moody and Dane Coles, which will boost the All Blacks' front row stocks significantly.
Laulala, named on the reserves bench for Counties-Manukau against Canterbury in Pukekohe last night, had few expectations in terms of minutes after recovering from a broken left arm suffered while playing for the Chiefs against the Blues in round two of Super Rugby in March this year. Two years ago his season was wrecked by a knee injury.
But the tighthead prop showed he has lost none of his destructive scrummaging power when coming on in the 46th minute in his team's 19-14 defeat.
Counties' scrum had been struggling until that point – they had conceded a penalty try from the set piece moments earlier – but Laulala's entrance changed things dramatically. What made the 27-year-old's performance all the more meritorious was the presence of Moody, another All Black returning from injury, directly opposite him.
Moody, back from a broken thumb suffered in the second Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park in August, ran out next to Laulala, a former Crusaders teammate, and immediately had his hands full.
Moody and Canterbury gave up five scrum penalties in the space of 25 minutes as Counties and Laulala poured on the pressure, but the red and blacks survived to confirm their place in a Mitre 10 Cup semifinal.
The pair, along with hooker Coles who made a successful return from a long-term calf problem for Wellington earlier in the round, will be named in the All Blacks squad announced in Christchurch tomorrow.
An initial squad of 32 will travel to Yokohama to play the Wallabies in the third Bledisloe Cup test a week on Saturday, with 22 or 23 of that group to travel to London afterwards to prepare for the test against England at Twickenham on November 11.
Another squad of 19 will travel from New Zealand to Tokyo to join the nine or 10 players who didn't travel to London to prepare for the test against Japan on November 3.
The make-up of the All Blacks pack may attract the most interest given the return of the three front-rowers, who will join current front-liners Karl Tu'inukuafe, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks and Ofa Tuungafasi, and the fact Steve Hansen must find a replacement for openside flanker Sam Cane, out for the rest of the year following neck surgery.
Given skipper and No 8 Kieran Read's back issues following his surgery at the end of last year have to be managed carefully, there are likely to be six or seven loose forwards named in the squad of 32.
Liam Squire hurt a hand in the All Blacks loss to South Africa in Wellington but is on the brink of a return, and Ardie Savea proved to the selectors with his performance against Argentina in Buenos Aires recently that he is a ready-made replacement for Read at the back of the scrum.
With Read, Savea, Squire, Luke Whitelock, Shannon Frizell and Vaea Fifita in the mix, there may be a chance for a non-capped player such as North Harbour openside Dillon Hunt to be included.