Crusader Ethan Blackadder's sensational form this year as the outstanding loose forward in Super Rugby gives him a shot at wearing an All Blacks jersey. Selection would be no surprise. The number on his back might be.
His move to openside flanker against the Reds in Brisbane could be the key to him becoming an international.
To make the jump from Super Rugby to test matches, versatility is a terrific asset, as Crusaders coach Scott Robertson knows from personal experience. Robertson was an opensider during his first three years as an All Black, then cemented himself as the first-choice No 8 for the last two.
Blackadder has gradually been moulded into a man for all positions by Robertson. In 2019 Blackadder told me that, "six is probably my favourite position. But Razor [Robertson] said to me once, 'You've got to be able to play a couple of positions', and he helped me to adjust to playing eight."
After the game in Brisbane last weekend Robertson noted that Blackadder is "probably in the South African mould as a seven, he's a little bigger and a bit more robust (than most sevens)." While Blackadder hadn't played on the openside since he was a teenager Robertson accurately noted that "he looked like he'd played there for many games."
What's never been in doubt is Blackadder's commitment. When he was first signed to the Crusaders in 2018 forwards coach Jason Ryan sang his praises. "I'm a really big fan, to be fair. He's got great character, and he's a great team man."
That hasn't changed. At breakdowns and with the ball in hand Blackadder is relentless.
If injury hadn't got in the way he should have had a breakthrough year in 2020. But after just 11 minutes of a Mitre 10 Cup semifinal at Landsdowne Park in Blenheim in October, 2019, Blackadder went into a tackle, trying to wrestle the ball free. "My shoulder got hit as I was going for the ball. They cleaned me out. I had my arm a little bit too long, I was hit, and it dislocated my shoulder."
His shoulder was put back into the socket, but scans showed there was no alternative to surgery. Rehab took months over summer, so in 2020 he only managed to get on the field for the Crusaders twice, as a reserve.
Eye-openers this season are his pace and his handling skills, all of which came together in Brisbane, on the back of a stunning 40-metre open-field run against the Brumbies a week earlier in Christchurch.
That sprint didn't lead to a try, but what must have made an impression on the national selectors was that a raw boned 111kg forward was quick enough to be able to run away from a chasing wing.
His skillset continues to improve. With the Crusaders using him as a pivotal midfield man on attack he's had the chance to polish his timing of a pass in intense game situations.
As his game management develops, he's following in some very large footprints. As brilliant as Richie McCaw was from the first time he played in an All Black jersey, his ball carrying and distribution were not as masterful in his first test in 2001 as they were in his last, in 2015.
Talking of big footprints, there are some remarkable similarities between Ethan's career to date, and the rugby path of his father, Todd, the 2000 All Blacks captain.
Neither father or son was a schoolboy star. Todd didn't make the First XV at Rangiora High School. For Ethan, a boarder at Nelson College, the weekends were a time to go hunting in the hills around Golden Bay, or to seek out mountain bike trails.
"I'd never really got into footy much at college. I played under-15s for the college, then half a season of under-16s, but it wasn't my passion," says Ethan. "When I first left school I took up a carpentry apprenticeship in Nelson, and I started playing club footy in my first year out of school."
In Ethan's first year of club rugby in 2013 he made the Tasman under-18 side. In 2014 he was playing senior rugby, taking the game seriously enough to join a gym to get stronger, and being signed up to the Tasman academy. By 2016 he was a starter for Tasman, and in 2017 was called into the Crusaders for injury cover.
Todd only devoted himself seriously to rugby when he moved to Collingwood to work on farms, and started playing senior rugby as a teenager. Two of the veterans of his club team pumped up his confidence, he played his heart out in a national trial, made the New Zealand under-19 team, and a long and lustrous career was started.
It's worth noting there is another similarity too. In a clever but snide remark this week a commentator, picking Ethan in a form Super Rugby XV, noted that "he must have got his pace from his mother."
It may be true that Todd sacrificed some speed for size and strength when he bulked up to move from flanker to lock in 1999.
But when Todd was a 95kg flanker in 1993, rather than the 114kg lock he became, he was a star player in a New Zealand sevens team that coach Peter Thorburn took to the first sevens World Cup in Edinburgh.
In 2001 Thorburn would tell me, "Toddy was extremely fast. I have a vivid memory of a try he scored against a star-studded Australian team, where he ran 60 metres to the line. His ball skills and agility are very, very underestimated."
As Ethan's career blooms, it's unlikely anyone will make the mistake of misjudging his range of abilities.