IRELAND manager Mick Kearney is "hopeful" Keith Earls will prove his fitness ahead of the third Test against New Zealand in Hamilton on Saturday.
The recurrence of centre Gordon D'Arcy's calf injury, ruling him out, places a greater emphasis on the return of the versatile Munster three-quarter Earls.
Even so, there is no doubt D'Arcy's experience at inside centre gave Ireland greater defensive certainty in the second Test than the Brian O'Driscoll-Earls axis in the first.
D'Arcy shut down his corridor and O'Driscoll had more room with which to create and to take the ball over the gain line through direct carrying.
Meanwhile, captain O'Driscoll (cheekbone) and tight-head Mike Ross (eye) have both been cleared for selection for the third Test following scans.
Ireland second row Dan Tuohy responded to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's assertion that Ireland played to their potential in Christchurch.
"That is just one person's opinion, isn't it really? I certainly don't think that is the best we can play," he said.
"There were a lot of mistakes, stuff we left out there. They are entitled to their opinion. As a group, we don't want to sign-off the season on the back of three defeats.
"We are desperate to right the wrong of the last two weeks and show that all the hard work can pay off.
"It won't be too hard to motivate ourselves this week. It is our last game of the season. We want that elusive win against New Zealand."
Warren Gatland, the coach-elect for the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia, could do worse than to turn in the direction of Sean O'Brien and Man of the Match Cian Healy with one eye on next summer.
Leinster back rower O'Brien has overshadowed Richie McCaw in the first two Tests in New Zealand to such an extent that the All Black's post as captain has been called into question.
Chris Rattue of the New Zealand Herald ranked O'Brien superior to the all-time great and two-time world Player of the Year.
"One of the Irish heroes and led the way in tackles and hit-ups, plus deflected a Carter drop goal attempt. Continues to cement a place as one of rugby's top loose forwards," he said, about the Tullow man.
In contrast, Rattue took aim at McCaw, previously considered untouchable by referees around the globe, never mind the opinion of an everyday hack.
"Stunning number of charges, includes one that he can't hang on to the pill. A giant, although with feet of clay these days and captaincy must be open to question on this," scolded Rattue.
It would seem even McCaw is not immune from criticism in a country where a slip in standards is not part of the mindset.
You are only as good as your last international in this place, not your last 105, as is the case for McCaw.