There's no doubt about it – if you criticise All Black skipper Sam Cane, you feel like an absolute heel.
The man is clearly so suited to the job; intelligent, courageous, a deep rugby thinker and the sort of upright citizen and honest Joe you would happily follow into the trenches. However - cue deep guilt - is he the best No 7 in New Zealand right now?
Let's get a couple of things straight at the beginning. First, there is a 99 per cent probability that Ian Foster will name Cane as his captain (injury permitting) for the series against Ireland and for next year's World Cup.
Second, it must be acknowledged that what follows here is stimulated by a succession of below-par All Black performances in recent times and little evidence so far from Foster that anything much will change. He hasn't named his first squad of the year yet, so first preparations for the series and the Cup have not been revealed.
But the point is whether Cane deserves his place in the team or whether there are alternatives that might hold sway even over his captaincy.
Namely Dalton Papalii, who has not only been captaining the Blues with aplomb but has maintained rich form. Let's hope the Chiefs meet the Blues again somewhere in the Super Rugby playoffs as the head-to-head clash between the two No 7s is 1-1 so far.
Cane took the honours in the first match, even though the Blues won, burgling a turnover that led to a try in Papalii's first game back from injury. Then came a 25-0 shutout of the Chiefs as Papalii's leadership and defence shined in a superb team effort from the Blues.
Add to that the Blues' last-minute win over the Brumbies last weekend. Much has been made of Beauden Barrett and others in that smash-and-grab at the end – but it was Papalii's turnover that made it possible, a match-winning intervention.
There's also the question of the structure of the All Blacks loose forward trio. Some would select this combination: Ardie Savea at No 8, Cane at 7 and, because he is playing too well to leave out, Papalii at 6.
But there's a flaw. None are out-and-out lineout options, though the All Blacks have used Savea there a bit. That mix lacks a big bopper – a power runner and heavy hitter on defence who can also be an effective lineout target, like Jerome Kaino and Liam Squire. Enter into considerations Akira Ioane, Pita Gus Sowakula, Hoskins Sotutu, Shannon Frizell, Tom Robinson, Luke Jacobson, Cullen Grace and Ethan Blackadder.
So if one of those comes into the mix, either at 6 or 8, we have a space issue. What to do with one of Savea, Cane or Papalii?
That trio is already on the small side for an international loose forward set. All three are formidable turnover merchants, but images persist of the All Blacks fruitlessly dashing themselves against unbending defences in recent losses to England, Ireland and France. There is clearly room for a power player who can give the All Blacks gain-line go-forward.
Size isn't everything, but those powerful northern hemisphere defences and giant forward packs have to be respected. Those with long memories will remember another smallish All Black loose forward, Rodney So'oialo, being rag-dolled by big England forwards as they beat the All Blacks in 2003 in Wellington with 13 men – the match they later said gave them the impetus to claim the World Cup that year.
Savea's dynamic running can't be omitted; he can play 7 or 8 so the focus comes back to Cane vs Papalii. The latter has more attacking credentials; Cane is a respected captain and leader.
It's not as if he is suffering from Thorne or Randell Syndrome – Reuben Thorne, the All Blacks skipper unfairly pilloried as Captain Invisible and his predecessor, Taine Randell, suspected of never quite ruling the dressing room as the All Blacks slid to five consecutive test defeats in 1998. Cane has had more than his fair share of serious injuries and is a concussion risk.
A third meeting between the Blues and Chiefs during the playoffs might see these two decide which one is the form horse. The All Blacks need something to chisel open the defences ruling the game; a reconstituted loose forward combination is one option.
Foster appears to be welded to Cane tighter than the clip-on lanes to the Auckland Harbour Bridge, so it's hard to see a scenario where Cane would be ousted from the run-on test team.
But not impossible.