Francis Saili ready for his test debut in Hamilton
It's been a managed apprenticeship, but the All Blacks finally believe talented North Harbour and Blues youngster Francis Saili is ready to be thrown in at the deep end of test rugby.
And if it's a sink or swim scenario, they're confident the 22-year-old midfielder has had enough time in the national environment to keep his head above water.
Whether it occurs this week depends a lot on the physical and mental state of Ma'a Nonu. The veteran No 12 has been struggling with an ankle injury that impeded him in the twin wins over the Wallabies, and there's strong thought being given to resting him for Saturday's Rugby Championship clash against Argentina at Waikato Stadium.
The experienced second five-eighth is also still looking to resolve his employment issues for next season, with New Zealand's Super Rugby franchises reluctant to find a place for him in their mix.
It may be that Nonu sits this one out, with All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster making it clear yesterday no chances would be taken with their veteran No 12.
"If we're not totally convinced about the ankle, then we'll make that decision," said Foster. "It will be based on where he's at. He's clearly been playing with that ankle bothering him for the last couple of games. He's feeling a lot better now, but it is an option for us not to play him this week."
If that happens, Foster says Saili is ready for his chance.
"He's certainly been exposed to the environment long enough to be ready. We've been impressed with his skillset.
"He's still a young man but he's had a great Super Rugby campaign, he's confident and we think he'll likely bring that confidence on to the international stage.
"We've got to make sure we've got the right people around him so he can go out and play well."
The likely return of Dan Carter from his calf strain should help and with Beauden Barrett also set to return too, Carter's ability to slip out a position will provide the insurance. Fairfax NZ