Crusader Colin Slade set to miss All Blacks cut
Colin Slade may be keeping Dan Carter out of the No 10 jersey for the grand final-bound Crusaders but he is likely to be the backline casualty when the All Blacks' Rugby Championship squad is named today.
Slade was called up for the England series to cover first five-eighth and fullback with Aucklander Charles Piutau out injured and Aaron Cruden still in the early stages of his comeback from a broken thumb.
But Slade did not play, with Cruden proving his fitness to start all three tests and Beauden Barrett used in reserve.
Piutau, who can also cover wing, is also back now from his knee injury and is sure to be included when head coach Steve Hansen announces the 31-man squad this morning at the High School Old Boys clubrooms in Christchurch.
There is likely to be no place for Slade, with Carter returning to the inside back division alongside Cruden and Barrett, and the outside back department occupied by fullbacks Ben Smith - a star of the England series - and Israel Dagg, with Piutau, Julian Savea and Cory Jane in contention for the wings.
The old firm, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, will head the midfield unit with Highlanders phenom Malakai Fekitoa.
Crusaders' vice-captain Ryan Crotty is not guaranteed selection despite compelling Super Rugby form and the ability to play effectively at second five-eighth and centre.
Hansen is likely to retain young halfbacks T J Perenara and Tawera Kerr-Barlow as Aaron Smith's backups, with the Crusaders' Andy Ellis again the unlucky No 9.
The forward pack selections are relatively straightforward, with the backrow proving the only area of debate.
Crusader Matt Todd is the form No 7 among the New Zealand Super rugby teams and was a non-playing member of the squad for the England tests.
But Hansen has a strong allegiance to the Chiefs' Sam Cane, who missed the England series with a knee complaint. Cane is likely to be Richie McCaw's understudy for the tests against Australia, South Africa and Argentina.
Todd has been preferred on the openside flank by Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, but McCaw will be in the familiar No 7 jersey for the internationals to reprise his 2011 Rugby World Cup back row combination with Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino.
Victor Vito was recalled for the England series and did not disappoint, but Hansen could restore Steven Luatua, who was dropped to focus on his fitness after an indifferent start to the Blues' campaign.
Luatua can also cover lock, which adds another string to his bow.
Possible All Blacks squad:
Backs: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Charles Piutau, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Ma'a Nonu, Dan Carter, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, T J Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Forwards: Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Steven Luatua, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Patrick Tuipolutu, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Wyatt Crockett, Tony Woodcock, Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu.