The first 40 minutes of the North v South clash in Wellington wasn't bad, but it didn't exactly set the world alight. But the introduction of one player changed the entire game, writes Gregor Paul.
If Hoskins Sotutu ends up winning a few caps this year at No 8, and he most likely will, he'll have Aaron Smith to thank.
It took the arrival of the veteran halfback to bring out the best of Sotutu, and to be honest, to bring out the best in everyone.
It wasn't that the game was laboured and blundered in the first half, but once Smith came on and significantly upped the tempo a handful of individual fortunes dramatically turned because there was suddenly flow.
Once there was more space, it allowed Will Jordan to be more involved, building the confidence to pull off the miracle play to win the game at the death.
It enabled Jack Goodhue to show the value of his decision-making under pressure, Rieko Ioane to demonstrate that he's the real deal at centre when he's able to attack a retreating defence and Tom Christie to show he's got the ability to win possession no matter the collateral damage around him.
Smith was the element of seasoning that had been missing from the dish – the dash of salt and splice of pepper that brought the flavours out of the other ingredients – particularly the back-rowers.
Sotutu had been relatively quiet for the first 40 minutes, outplayed by the unheralded Tom Sanders. But once Smith arrived and enabled the North to play wider and with more space, the big Blues No 8 was suddenly in his element.
When he was able to play in the tramlines, much like Kieran Read used to in his prime, Sotutu began to offer more bang for his buck.
His natural athleticism shone through, his ability to play the ball out of contact and see what was around him signalled his potential as a test No 8.
There were other little moments that the selectors will have picked on – like the crunching tackle he made on Brad Weber to create a turnover opportunity for Ardie Savea. It was great combination work, even if it did ultimately lead to Jordan scoring for the South.
And combination is going to be all important when it comes to the make-up of the All Blacks loose trio.
There's no shortage of component parts – it's how they all fit together that is going to be where the intrigue lies.
Savea, who showed he's back close to his outrageous best after knee surgery, has to be one of the pieces. There's no doubt that he plays his best football with number seven on his back.
It's the role that suits him best and he stood a little apart in Wellington – the best among the best.
Sam Cane, who was on view as a water boy, is the other piece that has to be used in the initial mix and this is the question that has been hanging around since last year: who should be the third player to slot in?
Sotutu is looking increasingly like the answer. He was the one who advanced his cause the most in Wellington, by coming up with the sort of muscular plays that the All Blacks are in the market for.
He's a natural No 8 and bringing him into the team would allow Savea to play in his natural openside role even if he wears No 6 for the All Blacks as he did last year, with Cane wearing seven yet operating as six.
The alternatives to Sotutu just didn't do quite enough to convince. Shannon Frizell, brilliant for the Highlanders, barely featured and there's a nagging doubt that he might just be that sort of player – rugged and abrasive in Super Rugby but a little gun shy when he goes up a level.
Akira Ioane's hands let him down a couple of times, but he shouldn't despair. He hung in there, showed the mental resilience to improve and came into the game more as it developed.