Elliott, Ellis form ticket to RWC?
Wellington - Rugby World Cup places will start becoming an important part of the conversation among New Zealand rugby pundits as Super Rugby enters the second half of its season on Friday.
The return of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter to the starting side for the Crusaders for their clash with the Chiefs indicates coaches are preparing to shift gears.
McCaw and Carter were on the bench last week for the seven times champions, who were unable to hold off a second-half fightback by the Highlanders as their intensity dropped following their return from South Africa.
That intensity will likely return on Friday when the Chiefs visit Christchurch, with games between the two sides in recent seasons, particularly at the business end of the season, producing pressure akin to test matches.
Given the expected intensity of the match, it will be an important gauge for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and his fellow selectors Ian Foster and Grant Fox as they ponder the make up of their World Cup squad.
The majority of the team are likely to have already been pencilled in, but serious injuries to hooker Nathan Harris and scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow on the All Blacks' European tour last year has meant they could struggle to make the World Cup.
Hansen and co. are therefore potentially searching for a third hooker, behind Dane Coles, who is battling an elbow injury, and veteran Keven Mealamu as well as a third scrumhalf.
The Chiefs' Hika Elliott, who has been capped three times since 2010 before recovering from a neck injury that could have ended his career, has loomed as the form hooker this season with his aggression, scrummaging and lineout accuracy.
"I have had some contact from the All Blacks coaches, they just want to see me doing my core role this year," Elliott told The Press this week.
"I just have to keep trucking for the Chiefs."
Crusaders' scrumhalf Ellis looms as an even more intriguing possible selection, given the 31-year-old's last act for the All Blacks was to kick the ball out from a penalty to end the 2011 World Cup final.
The Highlanders' Aaron Smith has cemented himself as the first choice since his debut in 2012, while the Hurricanes' TJ Perenara has finally begun to fulfil his potential in an unbeaten Wellington side.
Ellis said earlier this year he had been contacted about an emergency call up when Kerr-Barlow went down, but was unable to secure a release from his Japanese club Kobe Steelers, who he was playing for during the off-season.
"I was gutted," he said. "I would have loved to have worn the black jersey again.
"But it has given me some really good motivation and I am pretty excited about this year."