COMMENT

In 2015, Lima Sopoaga, Super Rugby's top points scorer that season and a big reason why the Highlanders won their first ever title with an upset win over the Hurricanes, missed out on the World Cup.

Dan Carter, Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade were selected ahead of him as specialist first-fives.

In retrospect, that was probably Sopoaga's best year – he never again reached the heights of his All Blacks debut against South Africa in Johannesburg – but the point is, the All Blacks selectors had real depth for the No10 jersey and the selections for the big trip to England and Wales would not have been easy.

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This year, as they attempt a three-peat in Japan, the selectors' discussions about their first-fives are likely to be far shorter. It's difficult to see anyone challenging Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo'unga and Damian McKenzie.

Which might be fine, but it's anyone's guess as to where McKenzie will be playing for the Chiefs now that he has been shifted from No10 to fullback after a difficult start for him personally and the team, in general, this year. McKenzie's kicking from hand, in particular, has been poor and that's an area the All Blacks' inside backs need to address this year.

It took only three matches for the Chiefs' coaches to see enough from McKenzie to select his brother Marty in the No10 jersey ahead of him as they search for their first win of the season.

McKenzie has developed into a utility player for the All Blacks – and a very good one at that – and now he's turning into one at the Chiefs, which might be more problematic to his development.

Damian McKenzie. Photo / Photosport
Damian McKenzie. Photo / Photosport

The 23-year-old's last seven tests have been at fullback. Of his 23 tests, he has started only one at first-five (against France in Dunedin last year). He is clearly more of an impact player – his performance at fullback in the final quarter against France at Eden Park last year will live long in the memory - but the chances of him becoming anything other than that are getting slimmer.

For the All Blacks, a little more competition for the No10 jersey would allow them to rest easier, because, heaven forbid, they wouldn't have forgotten the drama of 2011 when Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden were all injured during the World Cup which required the intervention via a fishing expedition from one Stephen Donald.

Who is putting pressure on Barrett and Mo'unga? Brett Cameron, Mo'unga's back-up at the Crusaders, was capped last year in the test against Japan but has a lot of developing to do, as has Otere Black and Harry Plummer at the Blues, Fletcher Smith at the Hurricanes and Josh Ioane and Bryn Gatland at the Highlanders.

Ioane's lack of game management was evident in Wellington when the Highlanders should have done better than to lose by three points but it's in those moments that the biggest lessons are often learned – just ask Plummer, who had a chance to put the Blues ahead of the Crusaders at Eden Park in round one only to miss the penalty from in front.

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Barrett and Mo'unga have been quiet this year (and Mo'unga's goalkicking percentage is a relatively poor 50 per cent), but it's so early and they are so out on their own as New Zealand's best No10s that it hardly matters.

McKenzie's struggles to get to grips with the role and quick change is more concerning but even more of a worry is the lack of a queue behind him.