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Pressure mounts at first five for All Blacks

Summer, brief as it will be ahead of a Rugby World Cup year, will have rugby pundits facing long debate about the make-up of the prospective side to England next year.

While it was double try scorer Beauden Barrett whose effort was reflected on the scoreboard in Cardiff on Sunday, it was Colin Slade who took the most of his chance to push his case to move up in the first five-eighths pecking order.

Versatility is going to be a crucial factor by the time the selectors come to pick their side and the pressure is on in a big way.

Barrett can play first five or fullback, Slade can play first five, fullback or wing while Dan Carter can play either first or second five-eighths.

The odd man out is Aaron Cruden and his case is going to be dependent on an outstanding season with the Chiefs in Investec Super Rugby.

It is a fascinating scenario, all of which could be thrown into disarray by an injury to any one of the four and as the last World Cup showed, it would not be unusual to require four first fives during the tournament.

Similar selection concerns can be reflected all around the team and some big decisions are going to have to be made if the same players are in the mix on the back of good form next year.

The season had been a hard one, coach Steve Hansen admitted that. The clarity, precision and finesse that marked the season of 2013 was seen only in glimpses – twenty minutes of the second Test against England, the first half of the third Test against England, the Eden Park victory over Australia, the Wellington win over South Africa, the middle stages of the northern Test against England and the last quarter of the win over Wales.

But while the quality may not have been evident there was never any doubt about the endeavour. It shouldn't be forgotten that the only loss was suffered with a controversial ruling which allowed a penalty goal to be kicked by South Africa right on full-time to secure a win.

The All Blacks demonstrated their traditional hunger and in the final count that was a significant difference over most of their opponents.

A new year brings new challenges. No doubt a masterplan is part of the management thinking and aspects of it may already have been decided.

Is there enough time for potential opponents to get their plans up to speed?

The northern hemisphere sides have to make the most of their Six Nations tournament to fine tune their plans but on the basis of the autumn series they have significant work to do, especially in relation to fitness.

It is apparent that Ireland are emerging as a genuine contender and will probably be favourites for the Six Nations, but France will have to be watched as well.

New Zealand can return home well satisfied with advances in playing personnel made during the year and which will be built on during the Super Rugby season and the abbreviated Four Nations Championship.

Fascination abounds and it is difficult to imagine a better place for New Zealand to be in than it is at the moment.