Ian Foster made all the right selections ahead of his first test as All Blacks head coach - except one, argues Paul Lewis.
While most of his first All Blacks selections seem spot on, it's a crying shame Ian Foster felt it necessary to play Jordie Barrett on the right wing in tomorrow's test against the Wallabies.
Even with brother Beauden then invalided out because of an Achilles injury, Foster kept New Zealand's best-performed fullback on the wing and whistled in Damian McKenzie at 15 instead.
By any objective analysis – and Foster's own – Jordie Barrett has clearly been the best fullback in New Zealand over Super Rugby Aotearoa and a brief spell in the Mitre 10 Cup. The decision to play brother Beauden at fullback (and McKenzie, when Barrett was injured) is a continuation of last year's dual playmaker strategy, though it originally smelled more like a sop to Beauden after Richie Mo'unga, correctly, got the nod at first-five.
If we are to believe the All Blacks brains trust, selection was on form rather than reputation – but Jordie's form was all at fullback. Criticism that he is too eager, too impulsive and subsequently prone to mistakes has come from the All Blacks coaching team.
Well, these test matches against an untested Wallabies side, the first selection by Kiwi coach Dave Rennie, were the perfect opportunity to help grow Jordie's consistency and effectiveness at 15 – and to try him out, on occasion, at first receiver if the dual playmaker tactic is so important.
How much better to have Jordie start at 15 for this match, with form horse Caleb Clarke on the wing and Beauden (or McKenzie) on the bench, ready to wreak havoc in the last 20-30 minutes?
Once you'd selected Beauden at 15, then the decision to shoehorn Jordie on the wing looks more like a gesture; Clarke is on the bench with the previous wing, Sevu Reece, not in the match-day 23.
All coaches have to take other concerns into account and weigh form against a team's culture and balance. But Jordie Barrett on the wing looks a marriage of convenience when it might have been better to give him the chance to woo the position he favours.
Foster wanted Jordie included: "I didn't want him to go into his shell. I want him to be influential; the more times he is involved, the better for us." He might also have said: "I didn't want Beauden to feel left out" though his replacement by McKenzie clearly points to selecting for a system as opposed to a position.
Man management is one thing; selecting boldly in the first year of a four-year World Cup cycle with little on it is another. Jordie may well play a blinder anyway – but Foster has a way to go to convince rugby fans that he sits comfortably in the head coach role; any hint of conservatism might grow a groundswell against him over time.
To be fair, the other All Black selections look sound. Clarke deserved his chance ahead of Reece; the latter hasn't had quite the sparkle of his first season and, in one or two sprints, looked as if his straight-line speed may not quite be up there.
It is smart, too, to play Jack Goodhue and Rieko Ioane at 12 and 13 – with Anton Lienert-Brown more suited to emerging from the bench when the game opens up and his broken-field running has more room to flourish.
Ioane will profit from playing outside the defensively tight and consistently good decision-maker Goodhue. Ioane's defence still needs work and this is a good platform to test and shape it, especially against the strong but inexperienced Wallaby centre Hunter Paisami, formerly of Mangere College and the Blues under-18 team.
It's good too that the rookies can come off the bench; Foster can't be faulted for not giving youth a chance there.
And the All Blacks will be highly interested in some of Rennie's selections for the first test – especially fullback Tom Banks, winger Filipo Daugunu, Paisami and veteran halfback Nic White.
Banks can be a tricky runner from broken play but the All Blacks will fancy testing him under the high ball and by running at him instead of the safe and physical Dane Haylett-Petty. Daugunu is a dangerous attacker but can produce some mad-headed mistakes.
White had a test to end all tests when the Wallabies ran up their record 47-26 victory over the All Blacks at Perth last year, playing an absolutely golden hand that day – but disappeared when the All Blacks took a 36-0 revenge in the next test.
White is 30 – no big deal, Aaron Smith is 31 – but you wonder if the Aussies missed a trick by leaving out 22-year-old Reds halfback Tate McDermott. He is untried at this level but, while his kicking game might not be as accurate as White's, his running game is sharp and would give the All Black loosies pause. He doesn't even make the bench.
The Wallaby forwards seem the business – the selections of Taniela Tupou and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto look to have upped the physical and athletic dimensions of the pack compared to some more wooden alternatives in the squad, obviously with a keen eye to contesting the breakdowns fiercely.
Another Reds youngster, flanker and turnover merchant Liam Wright, is missing and you wonder whether he may have been a better choice at 6 than Pete Samu – a minor consideration perhaps.
A much bigger one is James O'Connor's selection at first-five, with Matt Toomua certain to share first receiver duties from 12. O'Connor has undoubted talent and experience but his kicking game from 10 is not always top-class; the All Blacks may sense blood there, particularly in the 9-10 combination of White and O'Connor.
And the sight many will be most eager to see? Hoskins Sotutu released from the bench with a mandate to run. Can't wait.