Steve Hansen has revealed that there could be some new and returning faces in the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup squad.
In an interview with Radio Sport's Jim Kayes, Hansen acknowledged that rising Crusaders star Braydon Ennor has forced his way into the selection mix, in what will be a toughly contested battle for the midfield spots.
Hansen said there were eight midfield back options, including Ennor and Matt Proctor, chasing four positions. He also hinted that outstanding lock Scott Barrett was an option to be used as a blindside flanker.
With Hansen revealing that Damian McKenzie had been in line to cover halfback behind Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara before his untimely injury, he pointed out that Chiefs halfback Brad Weber had forced his way into the selection discussion as the potential third halfback. Weber has been keeping All Black fringe halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi out of the Chiefs starting lineup.
But Hansen also noted that Tahuriorangi had struggled to get a start for the Chiefs last year, when he was promoted by the All Black selectors.
Hansen said Scott Barrett was "a lock who can play six - he did a very good job against South Africa at North Harbour when Liam Squire had to come off.
"He's playing some wonderful football at the moment. He can play at lock or at six...(but) I'm not coming on the radio today saying we're picking him at six or lock."
On whether they take two or three specialist first five-eighths, Hansen said: "You have to ask yourself do we have anyone else in the team who could possibly play against Namibia or Canada, which are lesser games rather than having someone (a third No 10) sitting there taking up a spot."
This would appear to be a nod towards Jordie Barrett acting as No 10 cover.
Hansen said any rugby follower could name the first 25 players in the World Cup squad. The selectors had not made up their mind on the positional makeup in some areas because there was no need to yet.
"There is no point in committing ourselves to one way or the other at this point," he said.
He added: "Everyone has got an opinion. We've got to make sure we don't get bombarded by everybody else, do our homework, and make sure we are doing the right thing for the team."
Hansen also argued that fears about the number of injured All Blacks have been overhyped, saying that all of the World Cup contenders bar McKenzie would be in action before the World Cup squad was named.
"There's no point panicking, either they are injured or they are not," said Hansen.
"At the moment there are a number of people who aren't available to play Super Rugby. But when you look at the list, just about all of those players will be back at some point in the Super competition.
"We are well informed, a lot more so than the public. I'm not nervous, just waiting to see how they come back.
"Most of the guys have played a lot of rugby for the All Blacks - you know they can play to a high standard.
"We just hope they get back in time to get the fitness and possibly show us some form during the latter part of the (Super Rugby) competition.
"I understand the nervousness but the fans are smart enough (to know) most of these guys will be back in time.
"Let's not dwell on that injuries now. We'll probably get someone else along the way but that's the nature of our game."
On the positive side, Hansen said Waisake Naholo had made a decent return for the Highlanders. Liam Squire and Dane Coles were also on the way back through club rugby.