Crusaders lock Luke Romano knows he has a fight on his hands to cement his place in the Christchurch-based outfit's starting XV this year.
Despite 16 Test appearances and 46 for the seven-time Super Rugby champions, Romano knows he's regular partnership with senior lock Sam Whitelock is under threat from newcomer Dominic Bird, a giant at 2.06m, who made his Test debut on New Zealand's end-of-year tour in 2013.
But Romano welcomes the competition, saying it will bring out the best in all three.
"You might be an All Black and think your starting spot is guaranteed, but that's not the way here," he told NZ Newswire.
"The coaches pick on performance and, if you're not performing, you're going to be on the bench or in the stand."
Romano's participation in the Rugby Championship was cut short by a groin injury sustained in a Test against Australia in Sydney in August.
He returned to the Test arena when he came off the bench in the All Blacks' 30-22 victory over England at Twickenham in November.
Romano is refreshed and eagerly anticipating the Crusaders' first serious pre-season match, against the Highlanders at Motueka on Friday.
The 27-year-old said the Crusaders had relished their revised pre-competition training programme under coach Todd Blackadder.
The changes had the players concentrating more on rugby skills and developing combinations instead of spending most of their time with weights in the gym.
The Crusaders host the defending champions, the Chiefs, in their Super Rugby opener in Christchurch on February 21.