With the 33-man All Blacks squad named for the Lions series named on Thursday, I thought I name the squad I would like to see and my starting 15.
With lots of players under injury clouds, it’s likely Steve Hansen will name quite a few injury replacements. With the New Zealand super rugby sides dominating Super Rugby it’s made competition for places hotter than ever and a lot of new faces putting their hands up for a black shirt.
We will start with the forwards and will look at the props firstly. The props are one position that has escaped the injury crisis. The top four props pretty much pick themselves in Wyatt Crockett, Joe Moody, Owen Franks, and Charlie Faumuina with the fifth spot up for grabs. They’re a few players putting their hand up but the All Blacks selectors are pretty loyal so will probably select Ofa Tu’ungafasi
The hooker position is where we are going be missing our number one hooker in Dane Coles who has been out with the concussion for the majority of the super rugby season. I see the two best hookers in the country right now being Codie Taylor as our number one and Nathen Harris who is in great form coming off the bench. The number three hooking spot will come down to Blues captain James Parsons and Highlanders hooker Liam Coltman. The All Blacks selectors are very loyal so with Liam Coltman selected to go on the end of year tour last year I think Hansen will go with him. Coltman is the type of hooker the All Blacks like. He makes heaps of tackles, is a good ball runner and is a good distributor.
The locks are another position to spare from the injury crisis bring the concussion to Brodie Retallick over the weekend. I think like the props they pick themselves. I see Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock as our starters with Scott Barrett and Luke Romano providing cover. With the injury to Brodie Retallick, I think the All Blacks selectors will go with four locks for cover so they don’t leave themselves sport.
The loose forwards are the first position, which there a positions up for grabs with a number of players, playing extremely well. There is a lot of competition for the number seven spot with Sam Cane, Matt Todd, and Ardie Savea all playing extremely well. My preference is for Matt Todd to start at 7 with Ardie Savea to bring energy and good ball running skills when the Lions start to tire in the second half. I think all three will make the squad with Ardie Savea also providing cover at number 8 for Kieran Read who is only coming back from injury. I think if Jerome Kaino is fit he starts at six and obviously, Kieran Read starts at number eight if he’s fit. I also see the All Blacks selectors staying pretty loyal and selecting Liam Squire and I think the form of Steven Luatua has done enough to force himself into the squad especially considering the injuries to Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino. Luatua can play both off those positions, which the selectors will like and will provide more injury cover for those players. With Jerome Kaino under an injury cloud and still in doubt for the opening Test match, I think they will name Brad Shields as an injury replacement player as he has been in tremendous form for the last few years and deserves a shot at playing for the All Blacks.
I think the All Blacks selectors will just selector two halfbacks given the fact the tour is in New Zealand and other positions need a bit more depth due to injuries. The two best halfbacks in New Zealand are obviously TJ Perenara and Aaron Smith. The tough question in this position is who starts. I think the form TJ Perenara has shown on the end of year tour last year and that form has continued in the Super Rugby season this year should be enough to get him the nod but it will be a close call. Whoever starts we have great energy coming off the bench.
Again I think the All Blacks selector will selector just two first fives. Are number one first five is obviously Beauden Barrett who is probably the best player in the world right now and I think they will be loyal to Aaron Cruden who has been playing relatively well for the Chiefs. One player that people laugh at when his name is mentioned is Marty Banks. I feel he is one of the more reliable first fives in the country right know and if Beauden Barrett or Aaron Cruden got injured during the Lions series I would love to see Marty Banks be given.
The midfield is a position I am really struggling with so many players putting their hands up for selection. The form of the Hurricanes midfield of Ngani Laumpape and Vince Aso has raised the question if they should be selected but I feel they’re players for the future and wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the All Blacks squad next year or even on the end of year tour this year. I think the four midfield options will select themselves in Sony Bill Williams, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty and Anton Linert-Brown. I think Jack Godhue who has been playing the house down for the Crusaders will be named as an injury replacement player for Ryan Crotty. My starting midfield combination I would like to see is Ryan Crotty at 12 and Anton Linert-Brown at center. I think these two players played extremely well on the end of year tour and deserve the first crack at these positions. Both are very reliable players and haven’t put a foot wrong when playing for the All Blacks. If Crotty isn’t fit I would like to see Sony Bill Williams start at 12. I know he isn’t in the best of form but he provides something different. What I also like about starting SBW is that the Lions will spend a lot of time analysing him taking away time from other players.
The back three is also another area I had trouble selecting. For me, I would love to see both Jordie Barrett and Damian McKenzie. Both players are playing incredibly well. They are ball runners, safe under the high ball and can quick goals better than our two first fives. Obviously, the other fullback selected is Ben Smith, who at his best is one of the best players in the world. The wingers for me select themselves in Waisake Naholo and Julian Savea. Both big ball runners and the All Blacks selectors like them. One bolter I would love to see but would be shocked if he were selected is James Lowe. The Chiefs winger just can’t stop scoring tries and has an excellent kicking game on him, which provides something different to Waisake Naholo and Julian Savea. I think the All Blacks selectors will stay loyal and select Israel Dagg. I think Nehe Milner-Skudder will come up just short of selection mainly down to not enough playing time under his belt. But is he was selected probably one of Jordie Barrett or Damian McKenzie would miss out.
So that is my All Blacks squad. Give me your comments on what you think of my squad what you would do differently.
Props: Wyatt Crockett, Joe Moody, Owen Franks, Charlie Faumuina Ofa Tu’ungafasi
Hooker: Codie Taylor, Nathen Harris, Liam Coltman
Lock: Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett and Luke Romano
Flankers/Number 8: Matt Todd, Ardie Sarvea, Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read, Steven Luatua, Sam Cane, Liam Squire
Halfback: TJ Perenara Aaron Smith
First Five eight: Beauden Barrett Aaron Cruden
Midfield: Sony Bill Williams, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Anton Linert-Brown
Wing: Israel Dagg Waisake Naholo Julian Savea
Fullback: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Damian McKenzie
Injury Replacement Players:
- Brad Shields for Jerome Kaino
- Jack Goodhue for Ryan Crotty
- Liam Coltman for Dane Coles
Best All Blacks Team
- Joe Moody
- Codie Taylor
- Owen Franks
- Sam Whitelock
- Brodie Retallick
- Jerome Kaino (Liam Squire if Kaino is Injured)
- Matt Todd
- Kieran Read © (Ardie Savea is Read is injured)
- TJ Perenara
- Beauden Barrett
- Julian Savea
- Ryan Crotty (Sony Bill Williams is Crotty Injured)
- Anton Linert-Brown
- Ben Smith
- Jordie Barrett
- Nathen Harris
- Wyatt Crockett
- Charlie Faumuina
- Scott Barrett
- Ardie Savea
- Aaron Smith
- Damian McKenzie
- Sony Bill Williams