Beauden Barrett has made a surprising confession ahead of his return from his Japanese sabbatical.
Barrett, who is playing with the Suntory Sungoliath in Japan's Top League, conceded that he wasn't the best fullback in New Zealand last year, despite donning the No 15 jersey for most of the season.
The 29-year-old said he is "absolutely" relishing his time playing at first-five up north and is keen on making the No 10 jersey his own when he returns to the All Blacks, potentially setting up an intriguing battle with Crusaders playmaker Richie Mo'unga when the international season begins.
"I've always wanted to be team first [but] I guess this 10-15 thing has been a system selection," Barrett told Stuff.
"I've got no doubt I wasn't the best out and out No 15 for the All Blacks, especially with Jordie [Barrett] and Damo (Damian McKenzie) around last year.
"But the way we wanted to play I could understand that and I bought into that.
"But going forward there's no hiding from the fact that Damian and Jordie and Will [Jordan] are all playing great rugby.
"But regardless of that I'm really enjoying my time playing No 10 here at Suntory.
"It's given me that burning desire to be better than what I have been before in the All Blacks No 10 jersey."
Mo'unga has claimed the No 10 jersey for much of the last two years thanks to his consistency in Super Rugby, most recently helping his side secure another final against the Chiefs in two weeks.
While the All Blacks have employed the 'dual playmaker' system – with Barrett at fullback and Mo'unga at first-five – extensively since 2019, Barrett says he sees himself as a "specialist No 10" going forward for Ian Foster's side.
Barrett is also confident that he'll be able to slot right back into the All Blacks set-up when the test season starts, despite claims that his sabbatical could rule him out of All Blacks selection.
"I'd fully back myself," Barrett said. "Obviously we have a two-week quarantine period when we have to maintain fitness levels and then two or three weeks before our first game if we are selected in the All Blacks.
"There's a camp thrown in there before that happens. I'm sure that if I'm selected in this squad coming up then through training in an All Black environment I can get myself up to that test match intensity.
"We've been playing a lot of rugby up here. Fitness won't be an issue."