Discarded All Blacks wing Rieko Ioane is in a race against time to get his starting spot back after being released to play Mitre 10 Cup rugby this weekend.
The 22-year-old Ioane, one of the standout test players of recent seasons, is expected to line up for Auckland against Bay of Plenty at Eden Park on Saturday as one of nine All Blacks made available to feature in the provincial competition.
Brad Weber (Hawke's Bay), Liam Coltman, Josh Ioane (both Otago), Vaea Fifita (Wellington), Braydon Ennor (Canterbury), Atu Moli (Tasman), Jackson Hemopo (Manawatu) and Luke Jacobson (Waikato) are the other squad members released.
Ioane, who has scored 23 tries in 26 tests, was replaced in the starting XV by George Bridge for the Bledisloe decider at the weekend and has seemingly dropped down the pecking order after the Crusaders flyer impressed with his all-round performance.
When asked whether the impressive performances by some individuals on Saturday made his selection job harder, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said it was hard to parse.
"In some ways it makes it easier because some people really put their hands up last night," Hansen said. "Where we had question marks, you no longer have question marks. But in other ways, it makes it a bit tougher, too."
"It always is," he said of it being a tough job. "When you name a team someone misses out. It's the end of their dream and this is a pretty big one – going to the World Cup."
As he said: "There's a bit of pressure on the other guys now to front up."
The All Blacks have one more warmup match - against Tonga in Hamilton on 7 September - before jettig off to Japan for the Rugby World Cup.
Ioane is likely to be included in the 31-man squad set to be named next week, but a strong outing for Auckland could aid his cause to usurp the likes of Bridge and Sevu Reece for a spot in the starting XV.
👏🏼 Thanks to the 48,339 fans who were on hand for the #BledisloeCup decider!— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) 17 August 2019
Don’t miss your final chance to see the All Blacks before the Rugby World Cup when they take on Tonga in Hamilton.
📅 7th September, 2:35pm, FMG Stadium Waikato.
🎟 https://t.co/t0RNW7YvYK pic.twitter.com/uwdlo3Bt4Q