Ryan Crotty's two-try return for Canterbury against Southland will put him in the frame for an All Black start against Tonga in Hamilton next Saturday.

The All Blacks coaches had asked him to play only 40 minutes in Christchurch and the midfielder's first half in the 80-0 demolition of the Stags was just about as good as it gets for Crotty, who has been sidelined by a broken thumb.

He looked sharp in his first game back since the Crusaders' semifinal victory over the Hurricanes on the same ground and now will be part of a selection process for the test at Waikato Stadium which could be among the most challenging of the lot.

Assuming Jack Goodhue's hamstring, which he strained in Perth, has recovered, the two Crusaders players will jump to the top of the list of those who need game time the most.


Coach Steve Hansen has said he wants to put out a strong line-up against the Tongans and thus treat it as a proper World Cup warm-up, which makes sense because otherwise it would be a potential waste of time, so Sonny Bill Williams, who also needs game time, will be pushing hard for a starting spot too after his excellent performance against the Wallabies at Eden Park.

There is also Anton Lienert-Brown, the standout All Black midfielder over the past two Bledisloe Cup tests – a big defeat and a big victory - to factor in on his home ground.

Although, given Lienert-Brown's consistent excellence over his two recent 80-minute tests, he is less of a priority in terms of needing time on the field.

"It's 100 per cent," Crotty said of his thumb before what was his final match for Canterbury. "It's good and I reckon it's been good for a couple of weeks now. I've been overly precautious and followed everyone's instructions. It's completely fine and it was probably overkill anyway."

Crotty, 30, has played 44 tests since 2013 and has been included in Hansen's 31-player squad for his experience, temperament and distribution skills. He is also equally at home at second-five or centre, an adaptability that the 24-year-old Lienert-Brown is also capable of.

"He's a leader and he made a difference," Canterbury coach Joe Maddock said after his side's victory. "From the All Blacks point of view they'll be happy he got through 40 minutes."

Crotty's absence from the Rugby Championship means he has been in the unusual position of following an intensive All Blacks' training plan put together by Nic Gill while knowing he hasn't been able to influence his chances of making his first World Cup, a metaphorical no-man's land which for him had a slight positive in the fact he was presumably safe from further injury.

"There's no point in worrying about stuff you can't control," Crotty said. "All I've been concerned about is how hard I work to get right and how hard I've trained to give myself the best chance to take my opportunity if I get it."


He got it on Saturday and with no further injury issues as Canterbury took their first win of the Mitre 10 Cup. His next chance should be against Tonga, and possibly for a similar amount of time. Look for him to be named in the No12 jersey with Goodhue outside him at centre.