James Mortimer 18.Jun.2013Getty Images
With the exception of the late inclusion of Sam Whitelock, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen originally made no changes to his starting XV from the first to second international, but in the third Test in New Plymouth there may be one or two shifts in the selection process.
Changes not so much to freshen the team and keep internal competition strong, but also to give the All Blacks coaching team some breadth to continue to refine the side as they keep one eye permanently cocked towards the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The most significant could be a double change in the backline, with Ben Smith a chance to be shifted into the midfield, with many believing that the inform Highlanders back has a long term future in the centres, showing similar skills and intelligence to another Smith who is currently cannot be shifted as the country’s premier number 13.
If the Highlanders back is shifted closer to the action, it could coincide with the return of Dan Carter, and there would be a fair amount of ease amongst the All Blacks if the world’s premier backline navigator is suited up to help oversee what would be Smith’s first international appearance in the midfield.
While Kieran Read is likely to run out again as captain despite his knock to the back, the selectors could also mix up the back row, with Victor Vito’s brief and powerful cameo and number eight in Christchurch notable, while there will be a desire to see if Steven Luatua can translate his Super Rugby authority onto the Test stage.
Big Chiefs front rower Ben Afeaki is another who could benefit from extended game time with Owen Franks potentially ready for a rest at tighthead, while Beauden Barrett has been a feature during All Blacks training sessions at fullback, perhaps further revealing some selection tinkering that will occur this week.