RNZ’s probable All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad

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Analysis – The All Blacks name their 31-man Rugby World Cup squad next Wednesday, RNZ’s Joe Porter does his best to pick it first.

The squad largely picks itself but there are a couple of spots up for grabs and some players have timed their run perfectly.

TJ Perenara leads the All Blacks haka.

TJ Perenara leads the All Blacks haka.

Photo: Photosport

Props

  • Ofa Tuungafasi
  • Owen Franks
  • Nepo Laulala
  • Joe Moody
  • Atu Moli

Laulala booked his place after replacing Franks for the Bledisloe decider and producing a strong performance.

His scrummaging was immense (the AB’s pushed the Wallabies back with just seven men a couple of times) and his ball in hand play and tackling were aggressive and largely accurate.

Franks still goes, of course, as does Joe Moody and the increasingly impressive Ofa Tuungafasi.

Atu Moli is the fifth prop for us, his mobility, running game and ability to play both sides of the scrum.

Unlucky ones: Karl Tu’inukuafe & Tim Perry.

It’s tough omitting Karl Tu’inukuafe, who’s journey to the All Blacks is inspirational, but he’s struggled with injuries lately and has run out of time to prove his match fitness.

Hookers

  • Codie Taylor
  • Dane Coles
  • Liam Coltman

Taylor and Coles are obvious choices with Coltman as backup only.

The bigger question is who will start between Coles and Taylor in the big matches.

We guess Coles, despite his lineout throwing wobbles and unnecessary yellow card at Eden Park last Saturday.

He brings a little more dynamism, speed and ball skill to the wide ranging role they both play, while the mongrel and ability to ruffle feathers, is something the All Blacks will need in the knockout stages in Japan.

Steve Hansen will back Coles not to go too far when it matters.

Unlucky one: Nathan Harris

Locks

  • Sam Whitelock
  • Brodie Retallick
  • Scott Barrett
  • Patrick Tuipolotu

Whitelock, Barrett and Retallick are locks, excuse the pun.

Tuipolotu may not have been in this squad a month ago but he’s been helped by two things; The shoulder injury to Brodie Retallick and his powerful display against Australia in Auckland.

Tuipolotu was a beast that night, smashing Wallaby after Wallaby backwards on defence, gang tackling effectively, and clearing out rucks with speed and strength.

He also got it done in the tight, the mauls, the drives, the scrums, where he has gone missing in the past.

He played with a venom we’ve not seen him from him at international level before, and kept the motor red lining to the end. His best game in a black jersey looks to have secured his place on the plane to Japan.

Loose forwards

  • Sam Cane
  • Ardie Savea
  • Kieran Read
  • Matt Todd
  • Jackson Hemopo

Cane, Savea and Read are obvious picks and will start all the big matches under the new hybrid loose forward system.

Read and Savea will switch between blindside and number eight throughout the game, depending on the situation i.e. Savea off the back of the scrum on attack.

Todd is a more than capable ball winning, contact absorbing openside replacement and will see his far share of game time.

The final loose forward pick is a trickier one. Scott Barrett is still likely considered their best blindside back-up, preferred to Vaea Fifita or Shannon Frizell.

We think this opens the door for Hemopo, who impressed in his limited time this year and can cover both lock and blindside.

The All Blacks coaches like his physicality and see him as a future number six, however the 25-year-old is leaving NZ rugby for Japan after the World Cup, will that count against him?

Unlucky one: Vaea Fifita

Fifita will be unlucky to miss out but he hasn’t grabbed his opportunities as well as the coaches would have liked and he’s probably not as good as Hemopo in the tight. He has however committed to NZ rugby, does that help him?

Halfbacks

  • Aaron Smith
  • TJ Perenara
  • Brad Weber

This decision was made a long time ago and won’t be changed. Weber was good enough in the small number of minutes he got to nail down the third halfback’s spot.

First-fives

  • Beauden Barrett (Fullback)
  • Richie Mo’unga

Barrett will be named as a first-five even though he looks set to start at fullback with Mo’unga at first-five.

We thought the dual playmaker experiment may have been to get Mo’unga some game time in big matches to set him up as a ‘finisher’ at the WC, with Barrett dropping back to fullback in the final stages of the game to catch tired defences off guard.

However it now seems likely the duo will start the big games. There’s no point taking another first-five, such as Josh Ioane, as no-one else is quite there yet.

If both Barrett and Mo’unga go down in the final it’s likely they’ll plug the hole with TJ Perenara or Ryan Crotty.

It will get interesting if Barrett, Mo’unga or both are injured early in the tournament. Will Ioane get the call-up or will they send out an SOS to Dan Carter or Stephen Donald?

Midfield

  • Sonny Bill Williams
  • Ryan Crotty
  • Jack Goodhue
  • Anton Lienert-Brown

Crotty will be picked even though he’s still injured and Goodhue and Lienert-Brown have been guarantees for a while.

If there were any questions over Sonny Bill’s selection they were squashed at Eden Park with his solid performance and calming influence securing his spot in the squad.

Unlucky one: Ngani Laumape

Ngani Laumape is an incredibly unlucky loser here. He’s done nothing wrong in the black jersey and is a spectacular runner and human wrecking ball. He also scores plenty of tries and defends well.

However, being a specialist second five hurts him as does his lack of experience compared to Crotty and Williams. Tough on the man, but he’s first cab off the rank should there be an injury.

Outside backs

  • Ben Smith
  • Rieko Ioane
  • Jordie Barrett
  • Sevu Reece
  • George Bridge

Ben Smith’s lack of form is a concern. One can’t help but feel Smith’s slide is one of the major reasons behind Beauden Barrett’s switch to the fullback. However, they say class is forever, and Smith has that in spades.

Rieko Ioane has been off the pace too, but Hansen will back him to run himself into form against Tonga and in the easier pool games.

He should come right and cause a nice selection headache for Hansen, with Reece and Bridge carrying their superb Super Rugby form straight into tests. The pair produced a standout display in the Bledisloe decider and it will be hard to drop them at this point.

Jordie Barrett rounds out the back three backups. He has some unique skills and can cover almost all backline positions, making him ideal injury back up and bench cover.

He’s been castigated by many pundits for making too many costly errors, many of them unforced, but he could also turn a game with a moment of brilliance.

The outlier

Liam Squire.

Does he want to go? He hasn’t been sighted in an All Blacks jersey this season after calling Hansen to tell him he “wasn’t ready” for test rugby as he overcame injury and personal issues.

As of last Sunday Hansen hadn’t heard from him since, but the coach left the door open for Squire’s return.

Liam Squire

Liam Squire
Photo: Photosport

He’s big, strong and fast and the All Blacks have liked his physicality in the blindside role as try to find a long term replacement for Jerome Kaino.

Squire’s been playing well for Tasman at the start of the domestic season, and if he picks up the phone between now and Wednesday, he might be a surprise inclusion on the plane to Japan.



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