It is hard to think of Aaron Cruden as an elder statesman given his tender years but that is the position he is assuming among the crop of up-and-coming first-fives beginning to challenge Dan Carter.
During the World Cup, 23-year-old Cruden slipped into the No10 jersey after injuries ruled out Carter and then Colin Slade. And when he suffered the same fate, an SOS call found Stephen Donald holding a whitebaiting net and considering whether to open another beer.
After Donald there was no one obvious left, but already this season Beauden Barrett and Tyler Bleyendaal have shown they have the potential to make an impact at the next level.
Barrett, the 20-year-old from Taranaki who turned down an offer from the Blues to stay with the Hurricanes this season, has been a revelation in South Africa where he was involved in almost everything good in their loss against the Stormers and kicked his side to a late victory over the Lions.
Bleyendaal, 21, made his Super Rugby debut against the Blues in round one of this season's Super Rugby competition and looked like he belonged straight away in terms of confidence. His ability to take on the defensive line and his strength in the tackle made him look like an old pro.
"It's great for New Zealand rugby to have a lot of depth," Chiefs' first-five Cruden said. "There's a lot of depth at first-five but even in other positions there's a lot of depth starting to come through in this Super Rugby level and I think it's great, it can only be beneficial to New Zealand rugby and it pushes other guys around the country to raise the level up a bit."
Former All Blacks' first-five and halfback Jon Preston said he was surprised at how quickly Barrett and Bleyendaal have adapted to navigating their teams at Super Rugby level.
"Particularly the likes of Tyler Bleyendaal," Preston said. "He's very new to the scene at that sort of level. Beauden Barrett has been exceptional as well. People knew there was a lot of talent there among those players but sometimes it takes a while to settle. They seem to have done it very quickly and don't look out of place one bit."
With Slade making his comeback from injury in the second half of the Highlanders' victory over the Crusaders, what was once a position Carter had almost by right at the All Blacks now looks to be a lot more contestable. If Auckland 20-year-old Gareth Anscombe is called up by the Blues this season then all five of New Zealand's Super franchises will have youngsters breathing down 30-year-old Carter's neck.
Even the Reds are getting in on the act, with former North Harbour player Mike Harris, 23, filling in admirably for Quade Cooper at the Queensland franchise, although it is thought he will throw in his lot with the Wallabies.
New All Blacks' coach Steve Hansen will be an interested observer and is likely to include a few newcomers into his squad for the end of year tour to the United Kingdom.
Barrett's ability to play fullback marks him down as an obvious inclusion to the squad and while Bleyendaal, a former captain of the New Zealand Under-20s, missed with a late drop goal against the Highlanders amidst confusion about how long was left to play, he at least had the courage to attempt it.
But it's a slightly more mature Cruden who will have the inside running as Carter's deputy this season. "He has shown his development already this season," added Preston. "And that's probably from his time with the All Blacks. He doesn't try to take on as much as he perhaps used to. He's shown that he'll pick his time to do things, and that's a maturity thing."