Wellington: The drums are beating for two discarded All Blacks to be recalled as the world`s number one side remains bugged by a dearth of talent in the critical scrum-half position.
While New Zealand signed off another stellar season by reaping all the top world rugby awards, they head into next year`s World Cup countdown without an obvious back up for Aaron Smith in the nine jersey.
TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Augustine Pulu have all been tried and found wanting since New Zealand beat France to win the 2011 World Cup which has put the focus now on Andy Ellis and Jimmy Cowan.
Ellis last played for the All Blacks when he steered them home against France in the 2011 final while Cowan has not worn the jersey since playing Argentina in the quarter-finals.
Coach Steve Hansen -- named last weekend as world coach of the year while the All Blacks were team of the year and Brodie Retallick the world`s best player -- is tight-lipped about the scrum-half slot.
He has indicated that barring injury, 25 of his 31-man World Cup squad are pencilled in, with an over-abundance of talent in some positions.
But he gave no clues about the crucial link role behind the scrum.
Fairfax Media rugby writer Richard Knowler noted that in the three years since the last World Cup the selectors "are yet to groom a number nine who can hold a flame to Aaron Smith".
"Veterans Andy Ellis and Jimmy Cowan should keep their passports at the ready," he said.
Former All Black Richard Loe led the charge for Ellis saying the team would be "in a bit of strife" if Smith was injured while calling Ellis "Mr Reliable".
The New Zealand Herald`s Gregor Paul said Ellis, who appeared in 26 Tests and is now playing in Japan, may already be on Hansen`s radar "as successors are not measuring up".
"Come the World Cup, the All Blacks are going to need a closer at halfback, someone who can play out the closing minutes in a calm, accurate and composed manner. There is, really, only one man for the job... and it is Ellis," he wrote.
Cowan, a veteran of 51 Tests, moved to England and played for Gloucester after the 2011 World Cup.
But he has now returned to New Zealand to play for the Auckland Blues in next year`s Super competition knowing a 2015 World Cup slot is up for grabs.
"I think Steve (Hansen) came out and said he`s got 25 players picked for the World Cup, and there are probably about six spots open," Cowan told reporters.
"It will come down to Super 15 form and that`s where my focus is with the Blues. First and foremost you`ve got to play good football, and if you do that you`ll get picked."