AUCKLAND, NZ – Last night Air NZ unfortunately found out that they’d made a particularly serious casting error for their latest passenger safety video. Israel Dagg, who stars in the national carrier’s latest big budget production, was notably absent when the NZ Rugby rep read out the 31 names of the men tasked with defending our World Cup title. Wonder how the rest of the team will feel when he’s telling them to buckle up when they fly out.
Hookers: Dane Coles (Hurricanes/Wellington), Keven Mealamu (Blues/Auckland), Codie Taylor (Crusaders/Canterbury).
Props: Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders/Canterbury), Charlie Faumuina (Blues/Auckland), Ben Franks (Hurricanes/Hawke’s Bay), Owen Franks (Crusaders/Canterbury), Tony Woodcock (Blues/North Harbour).
Locks: Brodie Retallick (Chiefs/Bay of Plenty), Luke Romano (Crusaders/Canterbury), Samuel Whitelock (Crusaders/Canterbury).
Loose forwards: Sam Cane (Chiefs/Bay of Plenty), Jerome Kaino (Blues/Auckland), Richie McCaw – captain (Crusaders/Canterbury), Liam Messam (Chiefs/Waikato), Kieran Read (Crusaders/Canterbury), Victor Vito (Hurricanes/Wellington).
Halfbacks: Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs/Waikato), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes/Wellington), Aaron Smith (Highlanders/Manawatu).
First five-eighths: Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes/Taranaki), Daniel Carter (Crusaders/Canterbury), Colin Slade (Crusaders/Canterbury).
Midfielders: Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders/Auckland), Ma’a Nonu (Hurricanes/Wellington), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes/Wellington), Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs/Counties Manukau).
Outside backs: Nehe Milner-Skudder (Hurricanes/Manawatu), Julian Savea (Hurricanes/Wellington), Ben Smith (Highlanders/Otago), Waisake Naholo (Highlanders/Taranaki).
The squad itself is actually pretty predictable, the selectors have clearly gone for experience in the key positions and only really left the back three up to the public’s imagination.
The starting front row of Woodcock, Coles and Owen Franks is pretty established, but it was a bit disappointing to see Nepo Laulala miss out. Ben Franks presumably makes it because the selectors can’t remember which is the good one out of him and his brother. Hint: Ben’s the one with the history of giving away stupid penalties.
The starting locks may as well have been chosen two years ago, such is Retallick and Whitelock’s dominance, but Luke Romano can look forward to a bit of game time. Another area of predictability is the loose forwards, the faith shown in Liam Messam has been obvious over the past couple of seasons so it’s no shock to see him there. Him and Sam Cane will be doing the pickup work off the bench for McCaw, Read and Kaino.
Aaron Smith’s durability meant that many thought the selectors would only take two halfbacks, so Tawera Kerr-Barlow could probably count himself lucky. TJ Perenara is the clear backup though, so TKB will spend most of his time running the water.
They’ll be distributing to Dan Carter mainly, but the lucky one in this group is Colin Slade, a man whose facial dermatological issues were done no favours at all by the advent of HD TV. Slade and Beauden Barrett’s utility value nod over the highly impressive Lima Sopoaga. Of course, we can only assume Steve Hansen has Stephen Donald’s number handy if he needs another miracle.
Like the locks, the midfield would’ve been picked a long time ago. Nonu is in potentially the best form of his life, but the same can’t be said of Conrad Smith. He’ll have bad memories of the last time he was at Twickenham, when he got burned on the outside by English winger and Mr Bean lookalike Jonny May. While it’s unlikely he’ll get dropped, if Malakai Fekitoa causes carnage in pool play it’ll get people talking at least. Nonu would need to get hurt for SBW to feature in anything important, but he’ll look good and sell some jerseys at least.
Waisake Naholo, whose recovery from a fractured leg has been unbelievable, won’t actually going to be ready until the third game, so that gives a strong hint that he will be in consideration when things get serious. Nehe Milner-Skudder’s ridiculous form this year makes it very hard to leave him out, so will they consider dropping Julian Savea? Unthinkable as that may seem, the selection of Naholo is a clear message that The Bus needs to regain some form, fast.
Despite the slight areas of conjecture, this is an extremely strong All Black team. They’ve future-proofed their side so well that Aaron Cruden is the only injured player who you would say would definitely be there if he were fit. In fact, the amount of talent they’re leaving back in New Zealand is so deep that they could probably send another squad that would be highly likely to make the final.
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