Sam Whitelock’s head injury which has ruled him out of the second Test has put the All Blacks in a bind when they were likely to double down on their Scott Barrett gamble which paid dividends at Eden Park.
Barrett did exactly what he was supposed to against the Irish and we perhaps got a glimpse of the enforcer role he can play in the No.6 jersey - something the All Blacks haven’t had since Jerome Kaino’s retirement in 2017.
The transformed lock hit bodies on defence and at the breakdown, ran straight and with authority, and probably helped tip the set piece battle the All Blacks' way during the 42-19 victory.
Barrett’s performance was encouraging as the selectors put the pieces together for the rest of the three-Test series, Rugby Championship and November’s Northern tour, but also next year’s World Cup as they get to grips with international rugby’s increasing physicality.
But Whitelock’s delayed concussion, which he reported to the medical staff this week, robs the Crusader of a chance to narrow the gap on Richie McCaw’s All Black Test cap record of 148 (Whitelock has passed Keven Mealamu for second on 133). It also probably robs the selectors of the chance to see Barrett go again on the side of the scrum in Dunedin.
With Tupou Vaa’i diagnosed with Covid on Tuesday, and Josh Lord out with a knee injury almost as soon as he was named in the initial squad several weeks ago, the All Blacks are suddenly very short of locks. Despite the shortage, it's difficult to see Patrick Tuipulotu brought straight into the starting line-up after his return from his Japan sabbatical with Toyota Verblitz.
Barrett, who has played 49 Tests, is more likely to start alongside Brodie Retallick, who will take over the lineout calling from Whitelock, in the second row. Either Dalton Papalii or Akira Ioane is likely to be selected in the No.6 jersey.
Tuipulotu, given a New Zealand Rugby board eligibility clearance to join the squad as he hasn’t played NPC on his return, could find himself on the reserves bench. That in itself will be quite something for a player who trained with the All Blacks in Auckland last week but who hasn’t played since May.
"It’s not ideal," skipper Sam Cane said after training in Dunedin on Tuesday.
"Sammy was awesome at the weekend and became the second most capped All Black of all time which was impressive. No doubt we’ll miss his leadership and what he brings. And Tupou has been playing well all Super Rugby and was hanging out for his opportunity. It’s a tough pill for him to swallow.
"But man, in terms of replacements, we’ve got a 40-odd Test All Black in Patrick Tuipulotu to call in. He trained with us last week too … and will slip in pretty seamlessly."
It’s unlikely that the All Blacks' recovered Covid cases David Havili, Jack Goodhue and Will Jordan will be considered – for any starting roles at least. There may be a bench role for either Havili or Goodhue, but Jordan, diagnosed last Tuesday, probably won’t be involved until next week’s third Test in Wellington.
"There’s absolutely no pressure from… anyone for them to rush back," Cane said. "They were on a bike yesterday with a heart-rate monitor on measuring how they respond to exercise so all the precautions are being taken there. The last thing anyone wants is to risk them getting long Covid. They’ll have a few boxes to tick this week to even be available, I think."
The current midfield of Quinn Tupaea and Rieko Ioane performed well at Eden Park, with probably the only real chance of a change in the backline coming in the form of Caleb Clarke, who could replace new cap Leicester Fainga’anuku if he has recovered from his long-term hamstring strain.
However, given the changes coming in the pack, the selectors could feel that staying with the status quo in the backline may be prudent at this point.
Possible All Blacks team v Ireland, 2nd Test, Dunedin
1. George Bower, 2. Codie Taylor, 3. Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 4. Brodie Retallick, 5. Scott Barrett, 6. Dalton Papalii, 7. Sam Cane (c), 8. Ardie Savea, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Leicester Fainga'anuku 12. Quinn Tupaea, 13. Rieko Ioane, 14. Sevu Reece, 15. Jordie Barrett
Reserves: 16. Samisoni Taukei'aho, 17. Karl Tu'unukuafe, 18. Angus Ta'avao, 19. Pita Gus Sowakula, 20. Patrick Tuipulotu 21. Finlay Christie, 22. Richie Mo'unga, 23. David Havili