All Blacks cupboard hardly bare
Wellington - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will have good reason for paying close attention to the flyhalf position when he casts his eye over the Super Rugby action this weekend after Aaron Cruden was removed from his World Cup calculations.
Cruden could yet defy the odds and recover from knee reconstruction surgery to play some role in the back end of September 18-October 31 tournament but Hansen will definitely have to pick his squad without the 26-year-old.
Hansen, while bemoaning the loss of a key player, said the reality of potential injuries means he is constantly working to develop depth in all areas of his squad and he certainly is not bereft of options in the playmaker role.
Beauden Barrett is widely considered the flyhalf most likely to benefit from Cruden's misfortune and he will be on display in Brisbane when the Hurricanes try to put their first loss of the season behind them against the Reds.
Even in defeat by the Waratahs last weekend, the 23-year-old scored a brilliant individual try and, according to Opta statistics, led Super Rugby in metres (176), clean breaks (4) and defenders beaten (8).
The 28-cap pivot also showed a more worrying side of his free-wheeling game, however, when, running the ball out of defence, his pass was picked off by Peter Betham for the reigning champions' third try.
Two of the three flyhalves likely to be included in Hansen's World Cup squad, Dan Carter and Colin Slade, are in the Canterbury Crusaders team which will be looking to get back to winning ways against the Auckland Blues on Saturday.
Carter, playing mostly at inside centre outside Slade, has this season shown only moments of the form that made him the world's best playmaker but Hansen will not be unduly concerned at this early stage in what will be a very long season.
Slade, who has won 17 All Blacks caps since 2010, has played well enough in the number 10 shirt to restrict Carter to two starts at flyhalf this season and will retain it in Christchurch this weekend.
Because of injury, New Zealand got through four flyhalves at the 2011 World Cup and Hansen is certain to be keeping a close eye on Lima Sopoaga when he leads the fiercesome Highlanders backline against the Brumbies on Friday.
With accurate kicking, strong defence and a slick partnership with All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith, the uncapped 24-year-old is likely to be the next cab off the rank should injury strike again between now and the World Cup.