In an ideal world the All Blacks side to play Tonga would look a little different than it does.
Dane Coles would be starting, so would Sam Cane and Richie Mo'unga and probably Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane.
That those five are not, is a bigger disappointment to coach Steve Hansen than he would ever let on because it has probably curtailed his selection options for the critical opening World Cup match against South Africa.
Injuries to Coles, Cane and Mo'unga have denied the All Blacks the opportunity to develop their preferred combinations, while the non availability of Williams and Ioane has denied them the chance to determine their preferred combinations in midfield and the back three.
Hansen would have anticipated that injury would prevent him from picking exactly the team he wanted, but to have five probable starters ruled out as well as Brodie Retallick, is a bit further from ideal than he would like.
The point of the All Blacks being in Hamilton this week is to rev the top side's engine ahead of the opening World Cup game.
The match against Tonga is not a revenue-gathering exercise. It's not a PR stunt to show goodwill to a perennially unloved Pacific Island nation and it's not about giving fringe members of the World Cup squad a run before heading to Japan.
This game was squeezed in because the All Blacks learned in 2015 that not playing for six weeks before their opening game at the World Cup was a mistake.
It was nearly a big mistake because for 65 minutes at Wembley, Argentina threatened to pull off one of the great shocks and beat the defending champions.
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The All Blacks were disjointed, unsure and reactive and lucky to escape with a win. At one point before halftime they had Conrad Smith and Richie McCaw in the sin bin and seeing the two most assured and composed leaders of the age on the sidelines for dumb acts made it feel like the wheels were falling off before the wagon made it out the garage.
It took a supreme second half effort by the All Blacks to dig themselves out of trouble and they know they dodged a bullet – that not playing a test between the Bledisloe Cup match in early August and the opening game in mid-September left them undercooked and exposed.
Hansen made a mental note that if he was still around in 2019, he'd do things differently and when the draw threw them South Africa as their opening game, it became a non-negotiable that they play a test in early September before heading to Japan.
To reiterate that, the coach, somewhat unusually, went as far to clarify this week that only players in contention to play South Africa – with the exception of Josh Ioane - have been picked.
It was his way of reminding everyone that the match in Yokohama carries enormous significance and the All Blacks can't be sluggish getting into it. They can't afford to carry players who haven't quite convinced they are in the right sort of head space or form, so having an extended injury list this week has created an element of uncertainty about what the All Blacks team to play South Africa will end up looking like.
In some cases that lack of game time will have to be factored into the selection process, and specifically it could end up ruling Rieko Ioane out of contention.
Hansen said that had Ioane not been struggling with a tight calf, he would have played in Hamilton but now that he's not going to feature, on what justification can he oust either Sevu Reece or George Bridge from the starting line-up to play South Africa?
He's a world class talent and the selectors haven't lost faith in him, but Ioane hasn't played a test since August 10 against the Wallabies in Perth and if Reece and Bridge deliver against Tonga it would be a hard call bordering on strange to leave one or both out to accommodate Ioane.
The pecking order at wing may change, probably will as the tournament develops, but for the test against the Boks, the non-appearance of Ioane against Tonga has likely narrowed the options to two of Reece, Ben Smith and Bridge.
Williams may now also have sealed his fate as a non-starter against the Boks. His performance against the Wallabies at Eden Park was good enough to win him squad selection but not enough to make him the obvious choice to start at second-five.
He needed a big game against Tonga to provide the confidence he's where he needs to be form-wise to play the Boks and without it, best case scenario for him now is a place on the bench with Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue starting.
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