There aren't many more tests for the All Blacks before they begin their World Cup defence.

After Sunday's important one against Italy in Rome they have three tests in a truncated Rugby Championship, one more against the Wallabies for the Bledisloe Cup, and possibly one more yet to be confirmed before they travel to Japan.

So, after this weekend, there are just four or five to go before they face the Springboks in their first pool match in Yokohama next September.


Why is the test against Italy, the perennial Six Nations wooden-spooners, important? It is because of its value as a developmental tool for the newer members of the squad against another Northern Hemisphere nation – against whom the All Blacks have struggled recently.

[Read more: Flood of changes to All Blacks team to face Italy - Who's in and out]

The way England and Ireland have defended against the All Blacks over the past fortnight have created problems we haven't seen since… the British & Irish Lions toured last year.

The Azzurri don't have the ability to pour the pressure on for the full 80 minutes like the Lions, English and Irish did but they might well be able to do it for the first quarter.

Where are the big threats to the All Blacks going to come from at the World Cup? Probably the Northern Hemisphere.

All of which makes the selectors' decision to not select Richie Mo'unga in the No 10 jersey all the more perplexing.

Instead, Mo'unga finds himself on the bench for the third time in three weeks, with Beauden Barrett again preferred as the starting first-five.

Mo'unga has played eight tests (all this year) and has started only two of them. After serving his long apprenticeship behind Dan Carter, Barrett has played 72 tests – 10 of which have come this year (all starts in 2018).

Richie Mo'unga waiting. Photo / Getty
Richie Mo'unga waiting. Photo / Getty

This would strike as an ideal time to provide Mo'unga with another opportunity to set the agenda at the start of a test against fresh and motivated defenders rather than attempt to change things up at the end of one.

So why has Steve Hansen and company decided to go with Barrett again? It's possibly because they have committed to the idea of bringing Mo'unga on as an impact player and that they want to improve his combination with Barrett.

The All Blacks coaches want Barrett and Mo'unga to play a dual role at the end of tests because they believe two playmakers are better than one. It makes sense but it needs refining and their combination didn't gel in Dublin because there appeared to be confusion about who was running the ship.

The team tends to play a very fluid style in the final quarter of tests, with Barrett, Mo'unga and Ben Smith and/or Damian McKenzie all standing at first receiver at times, but at Aviva Stadium, Barrett and Mo'unga were often standing in close proximity to each other, with eyes on the ball and scanning the on-rushing defence, and were therefore not in position to maximize their ability to put teammates into some much-needed space.

One either side of the breakdown posing an equally high threat would have been more effective.

McKenzie's selection at fullback confirms that the selectors still believe that is where he is best placed to start a test these days, with Jordie Barrett, who would probably consider himself a specialist No 15, named on the right wing.

There will be interest in how Jordie Barrett operates in combination with McKenzie, but also in who the selectors will take off for Mo'unga (should all remain fit). In the past two tests it has been McKenzie, but I'd like to see him stay on for this one so we can see how Barrett, Mo'unga and McKenzie – the three best playmakers the All Blacks have - operate together.

That's something we'll probably see more of at the World Cup – although by that stage McKenzie could be the one coming off the bench.