Ma'a Nonu's international career has spanned more than a decade, three coaches and 94 tests.
Mr Indestructible seemed on track to pound through this season towards a final World Cup campaign when he broke his arm against the Springboks in Wellington. Half of the All Blacks' valued midfield partnership was gone until next season and Nonu would have to wait to add to his 73 tests wearing the No12 jersey.
Into the breach? So far it's been Malakai Fekitoa, the chunky lookalike sans dreadlocks, who has been learning the beat and doing very well.
He carries strongly, is very light on his feet and is getting to grips with all the other frills needed to complement his duties.
After being shuffled off from the Blues to the Highlanders when Nonu came north for a second campaign, Fekitoa made an instant impact at centre for his new franchise.
He was fast and physical, his power brought an attacking edge which had been missing from their backline and allowed others round him like Ben Smith, Patrick Osborne and Richard Buckman to flourish.
His selection as All Black understudy to Conrad Smith became impossible to ignore; his impact was as astounding as Brodie Retallick's emergence at lock in 2012.
Sure, there was some finesse missing from Fekitoa's game, but at just 22 he had plenty of time to look, listen and learn. Talk to those who have been around him this season and they will attest to his ability to deal with that side of his game as well.
He's off with the All Blacks tomorrow for their four-test trip to the States and Britain, with seven test appearances this season and another chance to clip his second five-eighths ticket. It won't be straightforward.
Internal competition has been ramped up with Ryan Crotty, a nine-test man, along for the journey as well as Sonny Bill Williams, who is returning to rugby after two years in the NRL. Daniel Carter is also hovering and while his main aim will be to nail down the No10 slot, he could be tried as a second pivot outside either Aaron Cruden or Beauden Barrett.
Who gets the whispered congratulations or the tap-on-the-shoulder "sorry pal" from coach Steve Hansen as second five-eighths for the major tests against England and Wales?
Right now you would put your money on Fekitoa. He has started the past three tests against the Pumas, Springboks and Wallabies and in each of those outings his understanding of the role and self-belief will have increased. Each time Conrad Smith has been in his ear, encouraging him, urging him on, helping him find the right balance in his game for the midfield battles.
Fekitoa allows the All Blacks to play the game through the middle of the park or out wide. He has the power to force defenders to come in and double-team him otherwise he will offload, rip through tackles or jig around poor technicians.
In much the same way Williams was a handful when he last played test rugby. He could breach defences and offload inside or out to trailing teammates with his special array of around-the-corner passes. He bent and broke the gainline, which is so crucial in test rugby.
That was up to 2012 when he played the last of his 19 tests for the All Blacks.
He turned out in a few games for Counties Manukau late in their ITM Cup campaign and has been working hard to flush his league habits away and replace them with rugby instincts. That will take time, which is something Williams may not have as his wife is expecting their first child in Australia, sometime during this tour.
That impending birth may restrict him to more training field, classroom education and impact from the bench rather than starting roles on UK portion of this trip.
The man to keep the heat on for the test jersey will be Crotty. He earned most of his corn at the Crusaders at second five-eighths until he shifted out a place to give them more impact out wide.
There is a sense of calm and tidy about Crotty's place, a low error-rate with the ability to make the right decisions at crucial moments. It's rare to find yourself slapping your face about his choices. He runs, kicks, tackles, backs up with the steadiness Conrad Smith brings alongside him.
And that similarity may be why the selectors opt for the difference Fekitoa brings with his munching menace.
England have a midfield of Kyle Eastmond and Brad Barritt, who don't threaten to overpower their opposites, while Wales' favoured combination of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies prefer route one.
Crotty and Smith against England, Williams and Fekitoa against Wales or different combinations?