Ross Karl: Tawera Kerr-Barlow leaving at peak of his All Black powers

OPINION: What a loss Tawera Kerr-Barlow is.

It seems strange to say that about a player ranked third in their position in the All Blacks. Usually, we'd just wave goodbye to someone down the pecking order who is off to Europe. They'd become a pub quiz question or the subject of a "what ever happened to" conversation.

But Kerr-Barlow is no number three halfback. He'd be starting for many Test teams in the world. Based on form, you could make a strong argument that he's actually our second-best nine right now, above TJ Perenara and behind Aaron Smith.

If he wasn't joining French club La Rochelle in December, I'd suggest it'd be hard not to pick him on the bench, behind Aaron Smith.

Kerr-Barlow was once again immense in Wednesday's midweek game in Lyon. Apart from one poor pass, he took good options, kicked well and tackled anything that moved. He also did that for the Chiefs all season.

After the game, Steve Hansen reiterated he didn't want the 27-Test veteran to go. He said TKB has never played a bad game in black. He said the 27-year-old is pushing his case very hard.

So why is he still behind Perenara?

The answer must be his departure because it can't be form. It's also not attitude, because he's the model professional. His teammates rave about his contributions on and off the pitch.

He's also one of the fittest players out there. I remember watching an All Blacks fitness test, called the Bronco, in 2015. Kerr-Barlow was coming back from a serious leg injury but was still was neck-and-neck with Richie McCaw for top spot. No wonder his work rate is so high.

The way I've seen it this season, Kerr-Barlow's form has been stronger than Perenara's. Right now, his pass looks crisper and he appears more level-headed.

For all his competitive spirit and commitment, Perenara hasn't been able to match his 2016 form this season. At times he's put team mates under pressure, especially with opposition defensive lines seeming to fly to up at the All Blacks more than before.

However, the Canes halfback has signed a new contract, so there is some logic to picking him ahead of a player who is departing.

The counter-argument is, when there are tests to win, why not pick the guy who appears to be in better form right now, even if he's leaving?

They've kept Kerr-Barlow in the squad because he's head and shoulders above the halfbacks doing the rounds in provincial rugby. So, if the focus isn't development, why not just give him a crack?

One thing's for sure, Kerr-Barlow's unlikely to let you down.

Ross Karl is Newshub's rugby reporter