Forget miracle returns from Dan Carter or Aaron Cruden, the big winner – if we can describe him as that after Damian McKenzie's knee injury which will rule him out of the World Cup – could be David Havili.

It appears that while the All Blacks selectors will already have established a pecking order in terms of Kiwi No10s and will know who they would like to back up Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga in Japan, a third first-five is unlikely to travel – initially anyway.

As Grant Fox told Radio Sport recently, an Otere Black or Brett Cameron or Stephen Perofeta would be unlikely to get game time anyway should Barrett and Mo'unga remain physically sound. "You need someone [at first five] to cover those middle two pool games [Canada and Namibia]," he said. "Could we get away without a specialist? Possibly."

What the selectors will probably need is another fullback who can cover outside back, or vice-versa. McKenzie offered versatility but also pace and relative soundness under the high ball despite his size.


His counter-attacking in particular is a major strength and while there are few better than Ben Smith in bringing the ball back from deep, Havili, who played three tests in 2017, isn't far behind. And, while he wasn't named in the recent foundation day squad, that's because he didn't play a test last year.

His Crusaders teammate George Bridge is probably already in line for a call up as an outside back to cover for Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith (who is equally at home on the right wing) because right now it's difficult to see how an (albeit injured) Waisake Naholo can find his form of old with little sign of it in the first half of the Super Rugby season.

Jordie Barrett offers height and versatility too – and, like Ben Smith, he's another almost guaranteed a trip to Japan covering fullback/wing, but if the selectors want a fullback specialist at the top of his game they would struggle to go past the 24-year-old Havili.

"He's been in the [All Black] group in the past – he's bashing the door down to be noticed," said Crusaders backs coach Brad Mooar recently.

"I think he is leading the competition or is right up there in terms of defenders beaten and he's playing very strongly for us."

The thing about Havili is that he generally goes about his business with such efficiency and neatness that he can blend into the background – especially in a team such as the Crusaders who are near obsessed in their desire to do the basics well.

The Tasman player has pace but also a surprising power that can take him clear of defenders. He had one of his best games of the season against the Highlanders in Christchurch and most notable then was his ability to put his teammates into space by running straight and passing at precisely the right time.

With only five tests before the All Blacks first game of the World Cup against South Africa in Yokohama on September 21, there may not be enough time for outside back Braydon Ennor to prove himself, but the 21-year-old has admirers among the selectors for his rugby brain or ability to do the right thing at the right time.


He also has the ability to play in the midfield and, above all, pace. And on what should be hard grounds in Japan, the latter is something the All Blacks will need plenty of. They won't have McKenzie to help up the fatigue factor late in tests but in Havili, Bridge and possibly Ennor, they have other speedy options.