Super Rugby trial to fill All Blacks holes

New Zealand rugby’s reputation for regeneration undergoes a stern test in 2016.

Players of quality spill from a production line every Super Rugby season, filling any holes that appear in the All Blacks.

This year those holes are craters.

Six players at the heart of a golden generation bid farewell at the World Cup – incomparable pair Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, Hurricanes midfielders Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu and Blues front rowers Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock.

A handful of other fringe Test starters have also moved offshore.

While the All Blacks’ World Cup squad was virtually set in stone last year, coach Steve Hansen will now need to earn his selectorial keep.

There’s every chance he will welcome the chance to rebuild, starting with three home Tests against Wales in June.

The side he wheeled out for the first Test of 2012, against Ireland at Eden Park, underlines why.

Making their debuts were lock Brodie Retallick, halfback Aaron Smith and Julian Savea – a trio who have already forged brilliant Test careers and are arguably the world’s best in their respective positions.

Sam Cane, Beauden Barrett and Dane Coles were introduced soon afterwards, helping mould the core of their 2015 world champion side.

Some of the gap-fillers this year appear obvious.

Hansen has already confirmed Kieran Read will assume the captaincy from McCaw while a future leader, Cane, should wear the black No.7 jumper.

Coles had already usurped Mealamu as first-choice hooker while Wyatt Crockett is a proven operater at loosehead prop.

Most interest settles on Carter’s replacement as chief playmaker while a fascinating midfield battle should unfold.

Aaron Cruden could well have worn No.10 if he hadn’t suffered a year-wrecking knee injury with the Chiefs.

He will have a point to prove but knows that Barrett and rising Highlanders whiz Lima Sopoaga offer genuine Test five-eighth quality.

Highlander Malakai Fekitoa starts favourite at centre while reliable Crusader Ryan Crotty and versatile Chiefs utility Charlie Ngatai are second five-eighth contenders.

One of wrecking ball pair Rene Ranger or George Moala could burst into contention if fireworks can be unleashed at the Blues.

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