Picking the All Blacks five-eighth for Saturday’s Test against Wales is as easy as ABC.
Oh and don’t forget D.
The names Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Colin Slade and Dan Carter will stare back at the New Zealand selectors this week and cause no end of head-scratching.
The identity of the wearer of the No.10 jersey has created intrigue in all four Tests on this tour and coach Steve Hansen is giving little away for the finale in Cardiff.
“The hardest part is which one to leave out because we have got four really good ones. They are all in good form,” he said.
“Obviously Dan is behind the eight-ball in terms of game time, but he’s a world-class player. Crudes has proven he can do the job and Barrett and Slade have both been very good.”
Slade is the least likely candidate, having been summoned to join the tour last week as injury cover.
However, he impressed in stints on the wing and five-eighth against Scotland on Saturday and his utility value could force a bench selection.
Test great Carter was not convincing against Scotland in his first start of the year.
The 32-year-old will rely on the selectors’ faith that he can improve considerably in a week and that he needs more rugby.
Cruden played neatly in starting roles against both the United States and England, but struggled with his goalkicking, landing six from 14 shots.
Hansen says a session with team physio Peter Gallagher had freed up a stiff hip joint which had been identified as problematic with Cruden’s kicking.
Barrett was the first-choice No.10 before the tour, starting three successive Tests after Cruden missed the team flight to Argentina.
His tour output has been just 20 minutes off the bench against England but Hansen hinted that week that the 23-year-old “maybe” still has his nose in front of his rivals.
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