Whoever becomes the next All Black head coach will walk straight into a problem with little previous precedent – a startling lack of international-class candidates at openside flanker.
Lock is bad enough; however, with Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock and Jackson Hemopo missing this year, the second row situation has been well prefaced. In any case, the bigger worry is at 7. It's been hidden by all the optimistic chatter about the next coach, a skipper to replace Kieran Read and enthusiastic media speculation about the next crop of youngsters coming through.
That's masked the fact there is a dearth of candidates in the position which has regularly set the All Blacks aside – their number 7s (and loose forwards as a whole) have been an integral part of All Black successes for what seems like forever.
For decades, whoever had the 7 jersey has felt the pressure of several similarly skilled opensides pushing for his spot. But now? Any rose-tinted glasses aimed at the future can see only, beyond Sam Cane and Ardie Savea, alarmingly thin ranks of international-quality 7s.
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That was the case even before about 50 first-class players from 2018, including Matt Todd, departed Super Rugby this time round.
To make things worse, there is also talk of Savea shifting to No 8 after Read's international retirement. Neither Savea nor Cane has a particularly reassuring health record; Cane's broken neck and concussion issues have been well documented and Savea resorted to goggles during the World Cup to protect his wonky eyesight.
The Blues' Dalton Papalii, the Hurricanes' Gareth Evans and the Highlanders' Dillon Hunt were given recent All Black examinations but none made the World Cup squad. Hunt's All Black career consists of 10 minutes against a French XV in the 2017 end of year tour – and he has since lost ground to James Lentjes in the Highlanders.
Evans, who hs 26 minutes as an All Black, has excellent positional diversity – he can play 6, 7 or 8 – though the combative Papalii maybe has inside running. He, however, may be better suited at 6 which is where he replaced Shannon Frizell during his last test, the 16-16 draw with the world champion Springboks in July.
So, who else? There are few options. The Blues' Blake Gibson is one and there will be those pushing the prospects of the Chiefs' Lachlan Boshier and Mitchell Karpik. There will be interest in the form of Crusaders' youngsters Tom Christie, Billy Harmon and Sione Havili – though the adjective "future" seems naturally applicable.
Perhaps the front runner is the small but explosive openside from the Hurricanes, the uniquely named Du'Plessis Kirifi. He is only 22, with 15 Super Rugby caps, but is a high tempo, all-action flanker with a busy tackle and turnover rate. He is small by modern standards, 1.8m and 101kg, but Cane was much the same dimensions when he first arrived in the All Blacks and beefed up later.
But that's it – and for All Black followers that's a thin stock of 7s for a country which has previously bred them like rabbits. Underneath greats like Michael Jones, Josh Kronfeld, Richie McCaw and Graham Mourie was always a small army of talented opensides who would have done a fine job but had precious little chance to do so.
Scott Robertson, now a candidate for All Blacks coach, often found himself behind Kronfeld. Ken Stewart was second fiddle to Ian Kirkpatrick and then Mourie – before himself overshadowing Kevin Eveleigh. Paul Henderson played most of his rugby in the Jones era while Marty Holah was sandwiched between All Black captains Taine Randell and McCaw.
At least they all gained All Black jerseys unlike the Waikato terrier, Duane Monkley, often featured in "unluckiest man never to be an All Black" conversations. He played for Waikato from 1987-1996, a period in which he competed against Jones, Kronfeld, Henderson and Mike Brewer.
Those days of depth have gone; the incoming All Black coach may wonder why. McCaw's career was recent enough that it is not unreasonable to expect his success to have inspired others.
There will be those who question the feeling of crisis. It's just one man out of 23, they may say. But the All Black loose forward trio – and No 7 in particular – have regularly spelled the difference between winning and losing.
To take two sides of the same coin, against the groundbreaking 1971 Lions in New Zealand, the All Blacks struggled to rein in halves Gareth Edwards and Barry John, with No 7 Alan McNaughton given the task, common in those days, of being the hunter-gatherer of John at first-five. John sat on the end of Edwards' huge pass, McNaughton was replaced by Tom Lister – and New Zealand suffered one of the few series losses at home.
In 1977, the Lions had a demonstrably better tight five and the All Blacks, especially in the fourth test, were reduced to three-man scrums. However the comparatively slower Lions' loose forwards had no answer to Kirkpatrick, Mourie and Lawrie Knight; the latter scored the try that won the series 3-1 against a team which had appeared the stronger side.
Did the Chiefs dodge a bullet?
Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell's work as defence coach for England had a lot to do with the All Blacks' exit from the World Cup. But many may feel the Chiefs have dodged a bullet when Mitchell decided against a coaching spot behind Warren Gatland next season – which may have seen him taking over while Gatland is away with the 2021 British & Irish Lions in South Africa.
When he was coach of Super Rugby side the Bulls in 2018, Mitchell's infamous corporate-speak and inhaling of self-help books re-surfaced when he was quoted as saying: "The onus and responsibility rests on the players. They have a choice between SOAR (Standards Ownership Accountability Responsibility) or BED (Blame Excuses Denial)."
The Bulls won six and lost 10 of their matches that year, finishing bottom of the South African conference and 12th overall.