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Craig Dowd

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Craig Dowd played 60 Tests for New Zealand between 1993 and 2000, including in two World Cups, and he was part of the All Blacks team that won their first series in South Africa in 1996. He played for the Blues and Auckland in New Zealand domestic rugby, and for Wasps in England from 2001 to 2005. In 2009, he coached North Harbour in the ITM Cup. More recently has been a SKY Television comments man.

Craig Dowd
Haven't seen best of Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden
Craig Dowd
May 28, 2014
Beauden Barrett is getting better and better, Craig Dowd says © Getty Images

What a decision the All Blacks selectors have over their choice of five-eighth for the first Test against England on Saturday week.

Beauden Barrett has really stepped up this season, playing some fantastic rugby. He can do things that other players might try at training and pull off there, but he does it in the heat of action and has some fantastic touches. And he is getting better and better.

The selectors, however, will no doubt think about Aaron Cruden's proven qualities and the fact that he was playing some great rugby before he broke his left thumb; he was the best first five-eighths in the country. It's quite fickle how we forget about Cruden after five or six weeks, but Barrett is in the spotlight and he is the man of the hour at the moment.

What is impressive is that these guys are still young players and we haven't seen the best of them yet.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is not afraid to give a youngster a chance. He's proven that. And New Zealand's track record is such that we know you need four fly-halves to win a World Cup so the more players who appear at Test level in that position the better our game is.

Aaron Cruden has already banked credits in the heat of Test action, Craig Dowd says © Getty Images

I wouldn't be surprised if Hansen and the selectors were tempted to look at Barrett in the first Test when England are expected to be below the quality we will see in the second Test. They know Cruden is recovering, coming back, and that he needs some time in the saddle; so it wouldn't be a bad thing for All Blacks rugby to give Barrett a chance with Cruden on the bench, and interchange them at some point. One guy is coming back from injury and the other is in the form of his life so there will be all eyes on the selection when it is announced next week. They are left with one more week to push their cause.

New Zealand's Dan Carter attends the Laureus World Team of the Year nominees press interview, 2014 Laureus World Sports Awards, Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 26, 2014
Have we forgotten Dan Carter already? © Getty Images

And all this time there's this other guy who stepped away from the spotlight. We forget about Dan Carter. There's three players who all have a script prepared in the lead-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and I am sure all of them want to see themselves as the starting 10. And who knows how fate might intervene to see one of them in that role?

Carter's 32, and there's a lot of rugby to be played between now and then, but we find ourselves in a really interesting time of transition. Will Carter still be there for the World Cup? Barring injury, I'm sure he will be with the inside track but it is great to see two 10s playing such sublime rugby while he is away.

Good on Glen Jackson for binning Richie McCaw

There was some great rugby played at the weekend, and the Highlanders-Crusaders game was a classic encounter. The Crusaders got a hurry-up and I thought the Highlanders were outstanding in the way they played and the character they demonstrated to come back.

Highlanders 30-32 Crusaders (Australia only)

There was a lot of cynical play from the Crusaders and to see Richie McCaw get sin-binned was brilliant because he deserved it. In the lead-up, there were three occasions before McCaw was sin-binned that he was cynical in his play and good on Glen Jackson for doing what he did.

It was a great comeback from the Highlanders and it was all set up for a fairy-tale ending, and there was only a blade of grass in it. It was a game of rugby dominated by a TMO's call on whether Patrick Osborne grounded the ball before going into touch or vice versa.

I must admit feeling sorry for the Highlanders for a very split second, but then I remembered I'm an Aucklander and snapped out of it. But I do have to say from the rugby purist's point of view that the end of the game felt like a bit of a let down.

However, that is the game of rugby for you; it was heartbreaking, but what a great game to watch.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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