Several All Blacks have big boots to fill
Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith do not leap off the page as the obvious successors to the All Blacks established midfield.
But they get a chance as a combination in a new-look New Zealand team named to play Scotland at Murrayfield on Monday (NZ time).
The midfield and back row were talking points for the tour opener as the All Blacks mix and match for this weekend and next week's clash with Italy in Rome.
Between them, Ellison and Smith have just 12 tests and, by New Zealand standards, their combination lacks size and penetration.
Rather than a long-term test combination, Ellison and Smith are more likely playing off to see who gets the bench spot for the big tests against Wales and England behind Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
"This is a combination that's going to spend a lot of time together in both the Highlanders and maybe future All Black teams," coach Steve Hansen said yesterday.
Whatever happens, they should have an edge on their Scottish opposites, but whether they can physically assert themselves will be interesting.
Hansen has named a team that has Beauden Barrett as the backup fullback behind Israel Dagg.
Piri Weepu is at halfback and he must produce something from the top drawer, particularly with Tawera Kerr-Barlow on the bench.
In the forwards, Victor Vito will be thrilled finally to get a chance, over two months after his last genuine opportunity for the All Blacks. Vito has been named at No 8, where there is little future behind Kieran Read. Secretly, he probably wishes his seventh test start was at blindside flanker.
After all, stealing that jersey from Liam Messam is a far more believable scenario than displacing Read.
All Black coach Steve Hansen felt Vito - who has played 10 of his 17 tests at blindside, including all four this year - was best suited to the back of the scrum.
"Probably in the long run, yeah," Hansen said. "He played really well there for the Hurricanes."
Vito has played only 10 minutes of rugby since being yanked three minutes into the second-half against the Pumas in Wellington.
The other talking point in the pack is Wyatt Crockett resurfacing at loosehead prop. He, too, has been on the outer, marking off the days until the expanded eight-man bench allowed an extra front-rower.
Crockett will not have found memories of his last-end-of-year tour when he was destroyed by Martin Castrogiovanni and Hansen may be protecting him from the monster Italian prop next week. Whatever the case, Hansen feels Crockett has earned his eighth test start.
"That's a game that you could say was a nightmare in a number of ways, not just for him. We felt like getting him into action as soon as possible," Hansen said. "It's going to be a big occasion for him. He knows I'm expecting to see a big game from him."
The Dominion Post