In the past five years, the All Blacks have used a stack of players on the wing.
Most of the 17 choices have been specialists, some have benefited from their versatility and others have been injury ring-ins. Usually it has been a case of who gets left out of the mix.
Now the selectors are scrabbling for some reinforcements, with Cory Jane and Julian Savea the only fit specialist wings left in the squad.
Jane’s form has fluctuated for the Hurricanes this season and by his own standards and those expected of All Blacks, he produced a modest performance in Dunedin.
He was picked on his preferred right wing but that did not appear to give him a necessary boost in confidence.
First-year pick Malakai Fekitoa might have been an option for the third test against England but is more likely to be at centre or as cover after revelations Conrad Smith has broken his thumb and will miss six weeks of rugby.
The selectors have to decide whether to promote the 22-year-old Fekitoa for his first test start in what has been a season of great progress or whether they go for the greater experience of Ryan Crotty.
If Fekitoa gets the nod he is likely to oppose the equally daunting Manu Tuilagi, who was dangerous at centre in Auckland and much more subdued on the wing in Dunedin.
Israel Dagg has a patella tendon problem in his left knee and coach Steve Hansen wants him to rest the injury for several more weeks at least. Charles Piutau is also recovering from a knee injury.
While it seemed odd, initially, that Matt Todd was the only Crusader released for tonight’s match against England (Ryan Crotty, Colin Slade, Ben Franks were other options) the wing-centre squeeze brought Crotty and Slade back into the playing mix.
Both are amongst the 17 who have played on the wing for the All Blacks and can cover multiple positions from the bench.
Slade has enough pace to play on the wing and with his kicking game he was a useful replacement in the World Cup pool match against France in 2011.
On last year’s tour to Europe, Crotty came off the bench to play on the wing against France, England and Ireland when he scored the glorious last-minute try.
Patrick Osborne, the wing deployed from the Chiefs to the Highlanders is on standby with the squad, while Tim Nanai-Williams, Matt Proctor, Frank Halai, Lolagi Visinia, George Moala and Tevita Li will have their supporters but not the ear of the All Black panel yet.
All Black test wings in the past five years:
Joe Rokocoko, Rene Ranger, Richard Kahui, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Hosea Gear, Isaia Toeava, Zac Guildford, S.B. Williams, Colin Slade, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Ryan Crotty, Cory Jane, Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Julian Savea.
Source: Otago Daily Times