Beauden Barrett's sparkling form appears to have edged him ahead of Aaron Cruden in what's shaping as a race to the wire to claim the All Blacks No 10 jersey for the first test against England next month.
After watching the Hurricanes dismantle the Chiefs, All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said Barrett's case was becoming difficult to ignore.
''You look at last night, you look at the performance again of Beauden for example just to pick one. He just keeps putting his hand up and saying he wants to be on the park,'' Foster said today as the All Blacks wider training group assembled in Wellington.
''Beaudy's played with a good degree of physicality in both his ball carrying and defence. His goal kicking is outstanding. He's doing everything right. He's putting us under pressure and that's exactly what we want out of him.
''He's a young man who is ambitious and is pushing us and we're delighted with that.''
Barrett, who has played 16 tests including two at fullback, but is yet to start at test at first five-eighth, has been New Zealand's form No 10 this season in the absence of Dan Carter.
The 22-year-old's near-perfect display during the Hurricanes 45-8 thumping of the Chiefs coincided with Cruden's return from a broken thumb via a 25 minute cameo off the reserves bench.
Under normal circumstances, Cruden, with 29 tests to his name would be a shoe-in to start the All Blacks season with No 10 on his back, but his injury lay-off coupled with Barrett's form has clearly given the selectors food for thought.
''His [Cruden's] timing [was a bit out], he looked rusty last night, but that's to be expected. With a bit of luck he'll have a good run next week and I'm sure he'll improve quickly,'' Foster said.
''He's got the mental capacity to come back [quickly]. We think he can deal with pressure pretty well. What he hasn't had to deal with is a lengthy spell from an injury. Time will tell. It wasn't going for him last night but he didn't get many opportunities with the way the Hurricanes were playing.
''This week [when the Chiefs play the Waratahs] in New Plymouth I'm sure he'll get a bit more game time and we'll make an assessment after that.''
Foster also mentioned Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa as a player who continued to impress saying his effort against the Crusaders after a week in a moon boot had shown his mental toughness.
The All Blacks wider squad have largely dodged the injury bullet with Hurricanes prop Ben Franks'niggly groin injury and Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty's bruised hip the only concerns.
Foster said No 8 Kieran Read was progressing well after shaking off a flu and would be upping his training work load this week as he looks to put the lingering effects of concussion behind him.
''We'll make an assessment later on today or tomorrow. He had a good week last week, he's starting to up his training load and the viral that he had seems to have settled down. Hopefully he has a good training week.
''It was great for him to have a week focusing on his conditioning because he's been out for a while. It's tempting to put a player like him straight back in [for the Crusaders], but after four or five weeks the chance to do a bit of conditioning will hold him in good stead I think.''
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