The decision to leave Owen Franks out of the All Blacks World Cup squad – for the time being anyway – was one of the last the selectors made. It was probably also one of the most difficult.
On the face of it, leaving a 31-year-old who has played 108 tests and represented New Zealand with nothing short of distinction and full commitment out of the squad for Japan appears shocking, but it's about balance as much as anything and once Nepo Laulala confirmed his place in the squad with an excellent test against the Wallabies at Eden Park recently, there was effectively no room for Franks, a fellow tighthead.
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With Angus Ta'avao also a tighthead specialist, albeit one who could play loosehead at a push but probably not at test level, included, and Ofa Tuungafasi able to play both sides, the selectors needed another loosehead specialist to support Joe Moody, which is why Atu Moli was picked.
"He is one of the great All Blacks," coach Steve Hansen said of Franks after announcing the squad for Japan at Eden Park today. "He's certainly shown true character. His professionalism on and off the field has been magnificent over the years - he's played over 100 tests.
"Unfortunately, we as the three selectors, we believe the game requires us to have big, mobile No 1s and No 3s and in this case we just think the other guys that we've named are more so than he and therefore we had to make a tough decision."
Hansen spoke about embracing the pressure of the World Cup as the All Blacks attempt to win three in a row. He also said other teams (he refused to specify which) would soon find out about the pressure of expectation that the All Blacks must cope with as a matter of course.
Some of that pressure would have manifested itself in recent selectors' meetings because while Moli, who has played two tests, both as replacements this year in Buenos Aires and Perth, has size and strength to burn, Hansen and company will probably feel he can be fitter and more mobile yet, an expectation that may not help Franks' sense of humour much.
The other factor in 24-year-old Moli's favour, though, was he has been on the national radar for a long while and would have made his test debut last year but for a horrific haematoma injury to his left quadriceps muscle.
"Obviously he's very disappointed, but I won't go into details about what we said or anything, but we're very respectful of how he coped with it and, again, it's a mark of the man," Hansen said of Crusaders stalwart Franks who is about to leave for an overseas contract at the end of the year.
Franks may still make the squad as an injury replacement – and Hansen will be crossing his fingers that his team emerge unscathed from the test against Tonga in Hamilton a week on Saturday.
But in the meantime he must attempt to process what must be massive disappointment that he won't be attending a third World Cup. It's clear the coaches want the All Blacks to play an up-tempo game on what will probably be hard fields in Japan starting in less than four weeks, and while there are few better at fulfilling Franks' core roles of scrum and lineout linchpin, the modern game has moved on slightly.
Given Liam Squire wasn't included in the squad – he will be considered as an injury replacement if required – Franks' omission represented the biggest surprise of the announcement.
Midfielder Ngani Laumape can consider himself unlucky to miss out but once Sonny Bill Williams proved in the win over Australia that he still has the ability to play at an extremely high level then there was no room for the Hurricanes player. Ryan Crotty's experience got him through despite a lack of recent game time and there was no way Jack Goodhue or Anton Lienert-Brown were being left at home.
The only other selection that may have raised eyebrows was that of loose forward Luke Jacobson, a 22-year-old who has played one test – as a replacement against the Pumas in Argentina this year.
Jacobson is a beneficiary of Squire's decision to make himself unavailable for the Rugby Championship this year but as a similar, direct, approach to the game.
"He's a former under-20s captain so he has good leadership skills," Hansen said.
"Defensively he's one of the hardest hitters in the game, he's a good ball carrier and he's just a smart rugby player so we think he's got a big future."
Hansen said first-five Richie Mo'unga is a doubtful starter for the test against Tonga due to his sore shoulder, although he did add if the test was a World Cup final the No 10 would probably play which suggests it's not too serious.
All Blacks squad: Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tuungafasi, Atu Moli, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Liam Coltman, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Luke Jacobson, Matt Todd, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (captain), Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Brad Weber, Richie Mo'unga, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece, George Bridge, Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith.