When the All Blacks squad for the opening Bledisloe Cup test against Australia is announced on Thursday morning, all eyes will be on who starts at first five eighth.
Will it be the red hot Beauden Barrett, or the traditional work horse Aaron Cruden who gets the nod to start against the Wallabies?
No one can question that Barrett is in career-best form heading into Saturday’s match. Fresh off a Super Rugby title win two weeks ago, more than a handful of people say that this is the time for Barrett to be given the start in a blockbuster match.
Traditionally, Barrett has come off the bench in most games for the All Blacks.
Based on form, Barrett is the rightful terror and will give the Wallabies a lot to worry about. In the first period of the game, the Wallabies will likely have a lot of possession, so is Barrett’s ability on defence good enough?
Barrett’s role off the bench has proved the difference in so many games that the All Blacks have won in the last year. This will be part of Steve Hansen’s thinking.
Aaron Cruden simply hasn’t performed to the level that Barrett has this season. Having said all that, Cruden has been mighty impressive in his own right. Cruden has showed good footwork and an ability to read opposition defences.
You could argue that Cruden is the second-best first five in New Zealand right now.
That makes Hansen’s decision on the starter all the more fascinating. You can’t say that Cruden has more big match experience than Barrett – think the Rugby World Cup final in 2015.
The selection could go either way, but the time for Barrett to be the regular starter could be now.