Five players who can make the All Blacks better by 2019
OPINION: The All Blacks do not need to reinvent the wheel.
Despite the disappointment of a drawn series against the British and Irish Lions the third test was a story of lost opportunities not of a side that has lost its way.
Nevertheless there is always room for improvement. By the time of the next World Cup in Japan in 2019 here are five players who can force their way into regular starting positions or offer impact from the bench.
What a start to his All Blacks career. The youngster has great composure and is just scratching the surface of what he can achieve. But his greatest selling point may be his goalkicking. No doubt the All Blacks will back Beauden Barrett to improve his kicking percentages during the Rugby Championship but they have a longer-term option in Jordie. The younger brother is already good enough to warrant a place in the 23 but his superior goalkicking may be the asset that catapults him into a starting berth.
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The All Blacks midfield is a congested area but Ngatai has such a complete game he may yet emerge from the pack at No 12, especially after Sonny Bill Williams took a step back during the Lions series and is such a devastating bench option. Ngatai has everything - pace, a great boot, intelligence - and just needs some game time and confidence to get back to his best. Ngatai will be 28 in 2019 and should be at the peak of his powers if his concussion issues are behind him.
Now that we know northern hemisphere rugby is in a good state Piutau's deeds since moving north in 2015 are even more impressive. For both Wasps and then Ulster Piutau has been showered with praise for his work either at fullback or on the wing. There is a poor record of New Zealanders returning from spells in Europe but Piutau, who has one more year left with Ulster, may prove to be the exception. The tricky part may be getting him back - Europe's clubs will throw a mountain of cash at him - and the nature of his departure may mean some bridges need to be mended before NZ Rugby opens its arms and its wallet.
Jerome Kaino played strongly in his restricted time on the paddock during the Lions series but the All Blacks are clearly in succession-planning mode with the Blues flanker now 34. Ioane played one of his better games against the Lions for NZ Maori. Sure, there were no big runs and offloads but his attitude and work-rate was outstanding and he was defensively staunch in a beaten pack. It was a performance that signalled he was ready to take the step up and do all the dirty work that is needed from a test No 6. Liam Squire and Vaea Fifita are also firmly in the picture here so Ioane will have to be patient and take whatever opportunity comes his way but his application is starting to match his talent.
One from the left-field here. It would take something remarkable for a tight forward not currently playing Super Rugby to make the 2019 squad but this young hooker is something special. Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd is a huge fan and Aumua's dynamic, abrasive, skilled displays for Wellington and the world champion New Zealand under 20s have 'future All Black' written all over them. He will learn from the best in Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles. Another potential All Blacks 'apprentice' on the end of season tour?