OPINION: It hasn't taken long for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to run into his first selection conundrum – namely what to do about Ma'a Nonu, Piri Weepu, Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams.
All four must be in contention for the first All Blacks team of the year, to face Ireland next month.
Yet Nonu and Weepu are below their best form and Carter is still easing back into rugby. Of the quartet, only Williams is on top of his game.
Hansen acknowledged that on Friday when he labelled Williams the form No12 in New Zealand rugby. But he stopped short of saying Williams will be his second-five in the first test against the Irish.
Then there's the added problem of goalkicking. Carter doesn't want those duties until he's fully convinced he's over the groin injury that ruined his World Cup.
So what does Hansen do?
Does he accept that somebody seems to have invaded Nonu's body at Super Rugby level and that he's only a shadow of his destructive self, and therefore Williams gets the second-five jersey?
Or does he remind himself that every time Nonu pulls on the black jersey, he turns into Superman?
Does he accept Williams' time has finally come? Or does he throw a curve ball, select Aaron Cruden at first-five, thus covering his goalkicking options, and ignore both Williams and Nonu and play Carter at No12 inside Conrad Smith. I suspect that Hansen will pick Carter at No10.
He has to. Carter remains the best first-five in the world.
So what to do about goalkicking if Carter can't perform the role against the Irish?
Does that open the door for Weepu at halfback? Could Hansen justify selecting Weepu and Nonu in the All Blacks on the back of their miserable Blues form?
If we look at Hansen's history within the All Blacks environment, I expect a conservative selection approach.
Carter will be at first-five and don't be surprised, despite Hansen's noises about Williams, if Nonu gets first crack at the No12 jersey.
There is no better example than Nonu about the validity of the All Blacks selectors' mantra in recent seasons that they back their coaching and environment to revitalise off-form players.
It's a tough challenge for Hansen and his selectors to think through – and reminds me why I would not want to be a coach.
I had another reminder of that when I bumped into Pat Lam at the airport the day after the Blues lost to the Hurricanes.
Lam and I played together at the Crusaders and I have tremendous respect for him.
He only went up in my estimation after our chance encounter. To be honest, I was slightly anxious as I was certain he would have been aware of my column last week stating he had lost the Blues' dressing room.
Lam could have used our meeting as an opportunity to "set me straight" on the many things out of his control that have undermined the Blues' campaign this season.
He could have pointed out the cruel injury run and the many non-Super Rugby-standard players he's now having to use.
But he didn't. Instead, he asked about my family, how I was getting on, what my plans were. He was genuine and there was no inkling of self-pity about his circumstances. I was reminded of what a gentleman he is, and I walked away feeling incredibly sorry for the predicament he has found himself in.
Coaching is a desperately lonely and unforgiving profession. I wouldn't do it for all the tea in China.
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- © Fairfax NZ News
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