Who should come into the All Blacks starting XV for the third test?
A reshuffled loose trio could be the blunt end of a physically dented but mentally sharpened All Blacks side ahead of its third and final fling against Ireland in Hamilton on Saturday.
No8 Kieran Read is on medical watch and lock Ali Williams ruled out for up to eight weeks with a knee injury in the wake of Saturday's bruising 22-19 second test win in Christchurch.
Both are potentially significant events and add to various bumps and bruises, including blindside flanker Adam Thomson's broken nose.
Of most pressing concern will be Read, whose second head knock in as many weeks is not being taken lightly.
"Reado will be a day by day prospect," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "We'll keep monitoring him and if he's not right we won't play him."
Chiefs loose forward Liam Messam will officially join the squad today as planned to cover for Victor Vito (knee), but it's unclear what Hansen's contingency plan is.
Presumably captain Richie McCaw would move back to No8 and, perhaps in a glimpse of the future, hand the No7 jersey to youngster Sam Cane on his home track.
More certain, it seems, is that Luke Romano will come into the reserves to cover the second row after Williams' surprise setback, with Messam covering the loose forwards.
The 75-test veteran Williams will go in for surgery on his right knee this week and, though Hansen was quick to say the plan was to return for the rugby championship, one wonders if that is a sure thing.
"It's been happening for quite a while, we've been aware of it, we've been managing it," Hansen said. "But the surgeon and doc have got together and felt we are running out of time if we want to get him back for the rugby championship."
It must be an emotional time for Williams, as passionate as ever, but already under mounting pressure after a tough Blues campaign, and clinging to the test squad via the reserves.
The 31-year-old's frustrations boiled over in Christchurch, where he was berated by McCaw for back-chatting referee Nigel Owens and it would be a pity if it were one of the final acts of his storied career.
Apart from half the squad sporting black eyes, everyone else is fit for selection, including hooker Keven Mealamu, whose availability means Hika Elliott drops out of the squad after providing cover for the past two weeks.
It's unclear whether Hansen is toying with any other switches, but any thoughts of mass changes may have been shelved after Ireland showed they are not the pushovers they appeared to be at Eden Park.
The scrum was a concern, but it is hard to see Wyatt Crockett coming in for Tony Woodcock at loosehead prop and there are few other options elsewhere for what will likely be another tough test.
There may be temptation to make changes in the backs. Highlanders Hosea Gear and Tamati Ellison must be champing at the bit for a chance and both Julian Savea and Zac Guildford were quiet in Christchurch.
Meanwhile, fullback Israel Dagg said he would simply move on after the first yellow card of his career for a shoulder charge on Irish fullback Rob Kearney.
"It is what it is. The ref saw it the way he saw it. It's one of those things, I just jumped and I kind of hit him, which made it look bad. The ref had to make a call, he made it and I just had to cop it on the chin and move on."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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