There's an old poker metaphor: Life isn't always about holding good cards, sometimes you just have to play poor ones well.
Anyone else think that's what the All Blacks are trying to do right now?
After a few tests involving the All Blacks' dual playmaker strategy, you'd have to say Steve Hansen and Co are either bluffing or shuffling – playing a colossal bluff or shuffling the deck, hoping to deal themselves aces in Japan in a race against time to perfect the new ploy.
There's a third option: Aces up their sleeve. The All Blacks could be selling a dummy to the rest of the world in what otherwise seems a quest to pry the game loose from the jaws of smothering defences.
By any measure, the dual playmaker gambit has not gone so great. Last weekend was, in All Blacks terms, almost as much a mess as against the Pumas, with the two playmakers not amounting to much in, admittedly, mixed team performances.
The good: Kieran Read's turnover and Sonny Bill Williams' pass allowed Beauden Barrett to create Jack Goodhue's try. It's difficult to assign that directly to dual playmakers. These days, whoever is playing 10 spends much of the game in the back field anyway; Barrett often runs on the edges when at 10.
The bad: It's not at all hard to assign Herschel Jantjies' try to the new system. Barrett was MIA when the two smallest men on the field (Aaron Smith and Jantjies) were contesting the ball. The video is inconclusive but at the time Barrett was metaphorically somewhere in the vicinity of Lower Hutt.
One of the main advantages of dual playmakers is having one either side of the ruck during phase play – so defenders are unsure where the ball is heading, or not as sure as when Barrett is on his own at first receiver. Get the jump on rush defences and they can move the ball wide where the All Blacks' pace, skill and support play can win matches.
Thing is, they haven't really achieved that yet – tracking right back to last year's European tour.
Hansen says the All Blacks need to counter rush defences – though the jury is out on dual playmakers as the solution. They will almost certainly be fielded against Australia and Tonga, the World Cup pool matches against Italy, Canada and Namibia – and maybe even for their quarter-final (probably against Scotland).
But that first pool match against the Boks and a likely semifinal against England? Maybe not so much… Lose that first match to the Boks and, with all due respect to the Scots, a tougher assignment looms in the quarters (Ireland).
For a clue as to how they might play against South Africa and England, look at the second half of the All Blacks' tour match against England last year and Wales' recent Six Nations win over the English. Remember, too, that while the All Blacks' attacking compass seems affected by a disruptive magnetic field lately, their defence has been (mostly) excellent.
Against England, down 15-0 and shaky, they tightened up – using pick-and-go forward momentum to allow more ball retention than the wobbly kicking game preceding it. They drew in that rush defence, the rumbling up the middle negating it.
Wales deconstructed England's game after a first half of fruitless running into that white wall of rush defenders. Wales also speared up the middle, making gains of only a few metres but holding the ball. They starved the English, whose frustration grew, along with the penalty count. As the penalty count rose, so did the scoreboard pressure ... and the England mistakes.
In World Cup knockouts, there will be a lot more of this and emphasis on the All Blacks' world-class scrum, lineout and rolling maul – plus Barrett's increasing facility for dropped goals, a handy wild card. Their defence is a weapon.
Those nervous about playing the Boks in this more conservative fashion have a point – but the importance of playing the game in their territory is underlined when you consider Handre Pollard's deadly goal kicking, backed up by Frans Steyn, who can thunder them over from 60m-plus. Ditto for Owen Farrell's kicking and Elliot Daly's long-range stuff for England.
The All Blacks' tactical kicking game has not impressed yet; it needs work, as do the collision areas where they were outpointed by South Africa in the first half. The back three combination will be vital – all need to be accomplished high ball receivers and efficient returners, possibly ruling out newcomers such as Sevu Reece for the big games.
The All Blacks are good at changing styles and can enter beast mode quickly – driving it up, playing territory, kicking the goals and relying on defensive and scoreboard pressure to force the opposition to chance their arm. That increases the ability to slip the leash on their feared counter-attack.
The beauty of pushing on with the two playmakers experiment is that it gives them options. If the forwards are driving up the middle, they give dual playmakers an open and blind side to exploit. Alternatively, start Ben Smith at fullback but bring Mo'unga on from the bench, with Barrett shifting to fullback, for the last 20-30 minutes. They can also change things around if the conservative stuff stalls. Either way, aces up the sleeve.
If the All Blacks adopt a more disciplined style for the big games and get the basics right, it won't much matter who is wearing or playing 15, whether it be Ben Smith (an oddly ineffective figure last week), Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett or Mo'unga – and the dual playmakers gambit could be ranked as a rather big herring, colour red.
Or, as poker players have it, when you bluff with weak cards, your good hands are much more effective.