All Blacks captain Richie McCaw is confident star pivot Dan Carter will be in the No 10 jersey when the international season rolls around next month.
Carter has endured a bumpy ride since returning to duty in the second half against the Crusaders against the Cheetahs on March 24. He started at first five-eighth for the following match against the Lions and resumed goal kicking against the Bulls on April 8 the last time he has kicked goals or been sighted in the No 10 jersey.
Since then Tom Taylor has been preferred at first five. His goal kicking has been outstanding and Carter is now being touted as a possibility to start at No 12 in next month's tests against Ireland.
That fireball of debate was ignited after All Blacks coach Steve Hansen commented on a New Zealand Rugby Union video that the uncertainty around Carter's ability to kick means he could play second five.
Now there is conjecture Sonny Bill Williams or Ma'a Nonu could be on the bench, allowing the vastly experienced Carter to run alongside the likes of Aaron Cruden.
However, McCaw, who returns to the Crusaders starting lineup for this week's match against the Rebels and is hopeful of playing 80 minutes himself after injury, believes his star teammate will be in his customary position for the tests against Ireland.
''I think so. He's obviously playing 12 which is suiting the Crusaders at the moment, and Tom Taylor is taking a bit of pressure off with his kicking, but I know he's working at getting back to that,'' McCaw told LiveSport today.
''He's one of the best first fives around so I'm sure that when it comes to All Blacks time, he'll be ready to slot in there.
''I actually thought he played pretty well as the game went on against the Reds last week, so I'm sure he'll be fine when he slots back into 10.''
Pain remains an unwelcome companion for Carter during his goal-kicking routines.
Although the swing of his left leg didn't create any noticeable discomfort for Carter when he drilled several shots at goal from about 35 metres yesterday, there remains uncertainty as to whether the greatest points scorer in All Blacks' history will be fit to kick against Ireland next month.
One thing is certain: Carter is still getting grief from the groin injury that prematurely ended his World Cup.
'It is not pain-free, but it is a lot better than the last week or two,'' he admitted.
''I can kick five or 10 [attempts] on a good day."
When Carter returned to kicking a month ago he warned he couldn't hoof the ball long distances and little has changed since.
Any chance of putting a date your return to match kicking, Dan? ''Not really. It is obviously quite dependent on the game, and the workload I get through.''
Crusaders and All Blacks doctor Deb Robinson chirped a similar refrain.
''The hope is if he has a good week then he may be in a position to consider kicking. But from nearly two-weeks out, we don't really want to put a time on it.''
Yesterday Carter, who recently wrote in a column he far prefers playing at first five, said: ''We didn't really talk specifically about playing at 12,'' he said in reference to a meeting with Hansen several weeks ago.
Much has changed since then; Carter suffered a setback when he collected a painful knock to the groin against the Hurricanes on April 21, he has been forced to revamp his kicking schedule and the physiotherapy sessions have continued.
''I don't want to be rushed back and forced back,'' he maintained.
Unlike goal kicking, punting causes little discomfort.
''Goal kicking is a lot more side-on, which puts a bit more stress on the adductor and that's how I did the injury. Obviously that is where it is at its weakest.''