In the normal course of events the squad that split the epic series against the British and Irish Lions could be expected to be returned en masse for the Rugby Championship. Regular service resumed, and all that.But things change quickly at the top end of rugby. Already there are two spots being vacated with Aaron Cruden and Charlie Faumuina finishing up their New Zealand careers, and there is also Ben Smith’s looming sabbatical to factor in, with the experienced fullback to take the rest of the season off after the second Bledisloe in Dunedin on August 26.Now Savea, an All Black regular who has scored 46 tries in 54 tests, has hit another one of those road bumps that seem to pop up so frequently in his career. He was dropped to the bench for the Hurricanes’ Super Rugby semifinal against the Lions in Johannesburg overnight, with Wes Goosen preferred as a starter.That says something about Goosen’s form in the quarterfinal victory in Canberra where he scored a brace of tries and was active and involved throughout; but it also speaks to Savea’s lack of impact. He’s a recidivist offender too, with similar struggles last year.Savea’s situation has become precarious, to say the least, and a sub-par effort in the final Lions test will not work in his favour either.All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has had his own issues with Savea, and as recently as the Lions series the strapping wing they call ‘The Bus’ was only required for action in the third test, by which time three other back-three players had been ruled out of consideration.Now if Savea is not even being picked to start big finals matches by his own franchise, it makes it extremely tough for the All Blacks coaches to keep picking him.On top of his Lions misfire, it might be the final straw for the powerhouse who as recently as 2015 was lauded as the most destructive wing in the game.With Savea’s Hurricanes team-mate Nehe Milner-Skudder likely to be returned to the test squad after his delayed start to the 2017 season, that’s one less spot available. Throw in Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Rieko Ioane, Smith and Jordie Barrett and that’s six back-three spots likely sewn up – even allowing for Smith’s imminent departure.The All Blacks have yet to decide whether they will carry a replacement for Smith from the off, or bring one in post-Dunedin.Jordie Barrett, on the back of his impressive starting debut in the third test against the Lions, shapes as the obvious replacement in the No 15 jersey (and at the same time taking some of the goalkicking pressure off his older brother).A likely move for Damian McKenzie into the first five mix could help Savea, though he might need to come up with something special off the bench in Johannesburg to remind the national selectors of his qualities.Smith’s sabbatical shouldn’t cause too much angst for the All Blacks. Coach Steve Hansen understands too well the physical toll on his players, especially over the back part of the year when they play seven tests in nine weeks, fly round the world twice and go through 10 time-zone changes.It’s understood Smith’s break is the only one of its type slotted in for 2017, and any other rest for overworked players will be discretionary. Hansen is working through a plan that will allow players such as Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane to get some strategic time off, if and when it is needed.Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read both have sabbatical clauses in their deals, but the feeling around the All Blacks is that most players are looking to kick in any extra time off in the break between seasons, which has the dual effect of allowing them a proper conditioning window.The All Blacks will be eager to reassert their status as the top team in the game during the Rugby Championship.The Lions were good enough to take the world champs out of their comfort zone throughout their series. It now remains to be seen whether the Wallabies, Boks and Pumas have the quality to do likewise.”The Wallabies are too talented a group of players to not at some stage find their mojo. We’ve just got to match that and better it,” Hansen told the Star-Times after the Lions series.”And the Boks, when they get the right players on the park, are a very difficult team to play. It’s going to be an intriguing Rugby Championship.” Photo: GETTY IMAGES Julian Savea can’t crack the Hurricanes starting XV right now; can he make the All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship?