By Wynne Gray
Daniel Carter now wears the blue and white hoops of Racing Metro, Colin Slade plays for Pau and Tom Taylor is lacing up the Toulon kit – three five eighths who directed the All Blacks between the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cup triumphs.
That’s a shedload of departing talent but there is still a pile of gifted five eighths who will test the All Black selectors’ judgement during the approaching Super Rugby series.
Sifting through that group will become one of the fascinating national questions before we find out who will lead the charge to fill the No 10 jersey in June when the All Blacks start their three-test series with Wales.
Beauden Barrett will be around the head of the queue after his experience of 36 tests and regular involvement with the side since 2012.
He plays five eighths for the Hurricanes and has done so for the All Blacks but has been more of a test utility who fits in at fullback or on the wing and is a backup goal-kicker.
A repaired Aaron Cruden returns for the Chiefs after a season wrecked by his knee injury. He has been capped 37 times and is a specialist five eighths with a dangerous running game, attacking game strategy and mixed kicking pedigree.
Lima Sopoaga is also a specialist 10 who will be pushing his cause after a consistently strong campaign with the Highlanders was rewarded with a test start in South Africa.
That has to be the top line in talent-Barrett, Cruden and Sopoaga-but Chiefs utility Damian McKenzie could be a wildcard challenge.
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His greatest problem will be getting enough starting time at five eighths if Cruden remains healthy and the Chiefs are productive.
McKenzie’s pace, attacking flair and goal-kicking will appeal to the national selectors as a long-term investment.
The experienced Stephen Donald will be a superb mentor and backup for the young Chiefs playmakers while there is a range of five eighths talent across the other franchises.
The Blues need more from everyone this year including Ihaia West while Matt McGahan and Piers Francis are unproven backups.
Barrett will lead the Hurricanes line with Otere Black moving up from his consistent work at Manawatu and James Marshall as the backup utility.
The Crusaders have invested in two cast-offs, ex-Waratah and Fiji five eighths Ben Volavola and Chiefs Marty McKenzie, and local talent Richie Mo’unga. It will be a case of who is fit and makes the best showings in trial games.
If things go awry for the champion Highlanders or Sopoaga, they have Marty Banks to switch to five eighths and also the steady Hayden Parker.
It’s a bag of talent-some realized others anticipated-across the five NZ franchises with Cruden, Barrett, Sopoaga and McKenzie about to begin the auditions for the famous black No 10 uniform.