All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has admitted he and his fellow selectors have been thinking about the Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett dual playmaking combination for "quite a while" and that now, with four tests remaining until the World Cup, is the time to try it.
"We've got a plan for a whole lot of things we want to do before the nitty gritty business and we just felt Saturday's game is the right time to try that particular part of the plan," Hansen said ahead of the test against the Springboks in Wellington, a potentially difficult match likely to cast a light on a whole lot of his players.
"Obviously to replace Beauden at first-five you've got to have someone who's pretty good and Richie has been playing very well for the last couple of years and at some point you want all of your best players on the park. Both of them are world-class players."
Mo'unga's start at first-five – just his third in what will be his 10th test – coincides with the return of six Crusaders to the pack, a combination that Hansen hopes will mitigate against a return to the rustiness of last weekend's narrow victory over the Pumas in Buenos Aires.
The 25-year-old Mo'unga was again immense for the Crusaders this year as he led them to their third Super Rugby title in succession and while Barrett moves to fullback after having an excellent test against the Pumas, there will probably be an anticipation among the coaching group and indeed the wider rugby public that this combination will continue during the knockout stages of the World Cup because the pair are easily among the top two playmakers in the world.
"What he brings to the table is an unreal skillset and an ability to just back himself in little moments," Crusaders and All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor said of Mo'unga. "That confidence is probably got him to where he is now and I look forward to seeing that out there on Saturday."
Teammate Matt Todd, who is starting at openside flanker, said: "He's just calm under pressure and doesn't get flustered in any situation. He can create something out of nothing, whether it's for himself or someone else. That's what you want from a No 10, a creator who is always putting the team in good positions. He makes good decisions. He's not an old guy but I guess he's got an old head on young shoulders. He's fun to play with, that's for sure."
There is an experimental look to the pack, with Hansen providing Todd and Shannon Frizell a chance to prove themselves from the start of a test, and Vaea Fifita and Dalton Papalii off the reserves bench, but the backline looks far more representative of a World Cup line-up, albeit with TJ Perenara starting at halfback rather than Aaron Smith.
The return of Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read will provide added grunt against the Boks – Hansen described Taylor as the best-performing All Black of 2018 – and while they all had a rest last week after the rigours of their Super Rugby season, they will be expected to click straight into gear.
Asked whether he expected a bit more from his forwards this week after his side were held scoreless in the second half last weekend, Hansen said: "The issue they've got is they're coming into the All Blacks and they've only had a short preparation time. The one advantage they have is most of them have played together.
"They've got combinations and that will be very, very helpful come Saturday. They've probably got another advantage too as there is a lot more experience amongst them. Do I expect more from them? Yes, because of those reasons and we'll need them to be better too because the team we're playing against will be better."
The Boks, many of whom have been in Wellington since last week, are also a side high on pace and creativity and showed last year with a narrow win and narrow defeat to the All Blacks that they have the talent but just as importantly the confidence to challenge Hansen's men like few others.
Injured Crusaders Scott Barrett (broken hand), Ryan Crotty (broken thumb) and Tim Perry (broken arm) have been training with the All Blacks and will have scans on Monday as to their progress ahead of next month's tests against the Wallabies.