News of Colin Slade's post-World Cup departure to France has intensified the collective hand-wringing over the state of New Zealand rugby's elite player stock.
By any objective marker Slade is a very good player, but there's no doubt the All Blacks can live and prosper without him. That 'fact' begs a couple of interesting questions, one abstract, the other practical. Why do we care so much when young players head abroad? And do the recent departures actually represent a crisis?
The word 'exodus' has become a familiar refrain in the past few months, as one All Black after another announced they were journeying to the cash-rich climes north of the equator.
Confirmation that the old guard of Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith were cashing in after long and hugely successful careers was met with resigned acceptance. Who could begrudge them? They're all well into their 30s, have families, and their fidelity to the black jersey is beyond doubt. They are, in rugby terms, men of substance, standard-bearers whose service to the ideals of All Black-hood has been unimpeachable.
What rankles more is the departure of those five to 10 years younger who have yet to earn their stripes. Players like Slade (Pau), Charles Piutau (Ulster) and Jeremy Thrush (Gloucester) have barely dipped their toes into test rugby. But unlike fringe players such as Francis Saili (Munster) and Frank Halai (Wasps), the trio are firmly entrenched in the All Black setup, and all things being equal would appear to have long and fruitful international careers ahead of them.
There's a feeling among the commentariat, professional and otherwise, that the younger players have betrayed All Black values. That may be too harsh, but any whiff of disloyalty is a powerful thing in New Zealand rugby. The black jersey is more than just a uniform; it's a cultural statement. Using it as a meal ticket offends an array of values that go beyond sport.
The justifications made for these young guys are shop-worn even if they do contain elements of logic and truth - this is the professional era, they have a chance to set themselves up for life, a career-ending injury is never far away ... Sure - all that. But what's inescapable is that young players are routinely weighing up the intangible value of the famous jersey against distinctly tangible bags of cash. And often they're landing on the latter.
But even if these losses stick in the craw, it's worth remembering that many, if not most, young players desire All Black status above all else. While a handful have gone, we shouldn't forget that the likes of Aaron Cruden, Dane Coles, Aaron Smith and Steven Luatua have committed to New Zealand beyond the World Cup.
Julian Savea is one of three big names yet to make a decision on their future after the World Cup. Photo / Greg Bowker
So is there anything to worry about? The only way to answer that question is to see what a post-World Cup All Black squad would look like, taking into account the players who have committed their intermediate future to the team. Try this out for size and see whether it allays your fears:
1. Wyatt Crockett (36 test caps)
2. Dane Coles (27)
3. Owen Franks (67)
4. Brodie Retallick (to be confirmed, fingers crossed) (36)
5. Sam Whitelock (62)
6. Jerome Kaino (57)
7. Sam Cane (TBC, FC) (22)
8. Kieran Read (73)
9. Aaron Smith (38)
10. Aaron Cruden (37)
11. Julian Savea (33)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (23)
13. Malakai Fekitoa (8)
14. Ben Smith (39)
15. Israel Dagg (75)
16. Nathan Harris (2)
17. Charlie Faumuina (27)
18. Luke Romano (18)
19. Liam Messam (42)/Matt Todd (2)
20. TJ Perenara (11)
21. Beauden Barrett (28)
22. Cory Jane (26)
23. Ryan Crotty (TBC, FC) (13)
The first point to make about the squad is that it doesn't include Richie McCaw. The current skipper has been coy about his plans, but all the indications point to the World Cup being his swansong and that he will retire from the game altogether at that point. The same also applies for Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu.
The second point is that the team-sheet reveals the All Blacks will lose little in terms of match-day personnel (putting McCaw to one side). The real loss is to depth. What happens if Cruden gets injured or Barrett wants to have a shot at Olympic glory with the Sevens team?
These are real but not pressing concerns. If the history of New Zealand rugby tells us anything, it's that new players will emerge. It's also worth bearing in mind the above squad doesn't have room for the likes of recent young All Blacks Steven Luatua, Joe Moody and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen.
So as you eat your sandwiches at lunchtime today you can satisfy yourself with a perennial truth - the future of All Black rugby looks bright.