As the French series draws closer there are several talking points surrounding the make-up of the first All Blacks squad of the year.

Kieran Read, Dane Coles, Owen Franks, Israel Dagg, Nehe Milner Skudder and Joe Moody have not yet been cited for their respective Super sides, while injuries continue to drain New Zealand franchises of top talent. A home series means the squad number will be limited to 30, stimulating the competition for spots.

Jumping into Steve Hansen’s shoes it becomes crystal clear that the battle for selection remains fierce. It is almost a case of who to leave out, rather than who to bring in. The squad virtually picks itself as I don’t see Hansen springing too many surprises a year out from the World Cup. The one shock pick in my squad below includes electrifying wing Ben Lam who has been burning up the turf for the red hot Hurricanes.

Recent History


Source: Poora Space – YouTube

The Debate

Filing through each position there are several selections that demand extra scrutiny:

Nathan Harris vs Asafo Aumua: At hooker Nathan Harris has been a workhorse for the Chiefs so far this year, but I have him missing out to Asafo Aumua. Nathan Harris has been a solid contributor to the All Black jersey, but he hasn’t quite delivered on his potential.

The All Black’s coaches will be tempted to get their hands on gifted Wellington powerhouse Asafo Aumua. His rare ability could be a huge asset over in Japan next year and he will be itching to show that ability against the Tricolore. Aumua has made a slow start to the year behind fellow Hurricane’s rake Ricky Riccitelli and that still may prevent him from being included against France, however, he showed enough in 2017 to suggest he is more than up to test football.


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Akira Ioane vs Luke Whitelock: At number 8 Luke Whitelock misses out to Akira Ioane. Ioane has been brutal in a poor performing Blues team and probably offers a more rounded game that complements the All Blacks expansive approach. Contrastingly Whitelock has been excellent in defence but doesn’t have too much to offer on attack and his similarity to Sam Cane could restrain the All Black’s loose forward trio.


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Matt Todd vs Ardie Savea: If Ardie Savea is available he will get the nod. Savea has burst out of the blocks in 2018 and looks back to his vibrant best. I rate Matt Todd very highly and he would more than likely walk into any other international side around the world. Unfortunately for Todd, Savea and Cane are playing down the house and there are only two positions available.


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Ben Lam vs David Havili: David Havili hasn’t quite kicked on from 2017 and extra scrutiny has revealed a number of flaws in his game. No better example than his inability to get across and cover Ben Lam against the Hurricanes in round 3. He gave the 109kg winger far too much room to move and the result is history (see 0.42 in the video below). A four-try scoring spree against the Rebels exemplifies Ben Lam’s form and has him in a commanding position to take that 5th outside backs berth. Nehe Milner Skudder and Israel Dagg could also stake a claim, however, they miss out due to their injury-enforced absence.


Source: All Blacks – YouTube

My All Blacks 30-man squad vs France:

Unavailable in June: Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Kieran Read (Crusaders)
Retired from 2017: Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Jerome Kaino (Blues)

30 Man Squad:

Props:

  • Joe Moody (Crusaders)
  • Owen Franks (Crusaders)
  • Nepo Laulaula (Chiefs)
  • Kane Hames (Chiefs)
  • Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Blues)

Hookers:

  • Codie Taylor (Crusaders)
  • Asafo Aumua (Hurricanes)

Locks:

  • Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)
  • Brodie Rettalick (Chiefs)
  • Luke Romano (Crusaders)
  • Scott Barrett (Crusaders)

Loose Forwards:

  • Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)
  • Sam Cane (Chiefs)
  • Akira Ioane (Blues)
  • Liam Squire (Highlanders)
  • Vaea Fifita (Hurricanes)

Halfbacks:

  • Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
  • TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)

First Five:

  • Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)
  • Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders)
  • Damian McKenzie (Chiefs)

Centres:

  • Ryan Crotty (Crusaders)
  • Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes)
  • Jack Goodhue (Crusaders)
  • Sonny Bill Williams (Blues)

Outside Backs:

  • Reiko Ioane (Blues)
  • Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes)
  • Ben Smith (Highlanders)
  • Waisaki Nahalo (Highlanders)
  • Ben Lam (Hurricanes)

Author: Simon van Ryn

I am a sports mad fanatic who loves watching drama filled code. Growing up in Wellington I have been fortunate enough to witness some great sporting moments at the Cake Tin – non more satisfying than seeing my beloved Hurricanes finally lift that trophy after 21 years of hurt.

11 COMMENTS

  1. I have been seriously impressed with Ben Lam the past two weeks! Amazing handling ability on such a big guy, hardly has a weak part to his game!

    • He is a late developer be he is definitely showing impressive form in the Canes jersey. Just another player the Blues let slip through their grasp.

    • Yesssssss. Totally forgot about Leinert Brown and I agree he is in the frame. Probably replaces Sonny Bill William’s spot on form. Laumape, Goodhue and Crotty are just too good to leave out at the moment.

  2. Definitely, as you say, a case of who to leave out. For example, there’s no Dagg or NMS in your squad, and who except Hansen can say that’s wrong?

    My hunch is that so close to the world cup, he won’t pick on potential, youngsters will already have to be performing when it counts at Super Rugby level. They need appear a safe bet in a test right now, like NMS in 2015. Potential is for the Japan and Italy games I think.

    Aumua has time to improve, but he’s done nothing so far after losing his fitness in the off season. He should overtake Harris one day, but only if he wants and earns it.

    Akira gets beaten too often on defence when there is a bit of space and we already have Fifita as a luxury loosie, but there is a possibility that Hansen will want to work on it with him. You know what you’re getting with George.

    On the other hand, while ALB has proven himself a reliable test 13, you might be right on Goodhue. He is performing even now when the Crusaders aren’t humming, and might be something special. Similarly Lam, if he is still playing like this in May, will put a lot of pressure on Dagg and NMS.

    Of course, Hansen could go for three nines or twos and totally fool us…

    • I don’t have Milner Skudder and Israel Dagg in the squad purely because it will take both of them time to find their feet again. I’m not saying this squad is the squad that will be picked, I have purely made my decisions on those players that are in form. Hansen has previously gone with the players that he trusts and you are probably right in the fact that Ben Lam may not even get a look in. I just argue the fact that Ben Lam is too hard to ignore and he is making a similar statement that Milner Skudder made when he burst onto the scene a few years ago.

      I just don’t think Harris offers much at test level. He is too safe in my eyes and doesn’t really add anything special. Asafo Aumua has that capability and I see the coaches wanting to include him now with the outlook of getting him World Cup ready for next year. Yes he hasn’t done much for the Canes but he also hasn’t been given much opportunity behind the standout Ricky Riccitelli.

      Likewise with Luke Whitelock, he is another safe player that does things well to a high standard but I have never really seen him dominate on an all round level. I can’t even think of the last time he broke from the back of a scrum and surged towards a try line. Each to their own I guess. I had my doubts around Akira last year but he has really stepped up this year. So much so that he is making those around him look fairly ordinary and I think that is to hard to ignore.

      I do agree that Hansen has the final say and I am only basing my selections on personal preference. The squad itself may look completely different come June and I suspect injuries will also force Hansen’s hand.

  3. Hi Simon,
    My opinion is that ardie savea, Akira ioane and vaea fifita is simply top much at once
    During last 6N France has displayed Great physicality hitting straight and direct running lines to the opposite sides
    U need tacklers, and good ones
    That’s why i Think matt Todd Will be selected rather than ardie savea which lacks a bit of working rate

    My loose forward world be cane, fifita and squire at no8

    Hooker chapter: i really don’t see aumua taking his spot right Now
    Consistency is what u need at test level

    Ben lam definetely over David havili

    Good for Hansen having this sort of problem, i see NZ way forward of the rest of the world

    • You make a fair point in regards to having too many explosive loose forwards, however there is that issue of limiting the effectiveness of the pack if you have too many conservative options starting. If we had a pack with Joe Moody, Owen Franks, two Whitelocks, Sam Cane, Brodie Rettalick and Nathan Harris featuring then that really limits the brand of rugby we can play. I think the best balance of our loosies without Read would be Squire at 6, Cane at 7 and Ioane at 8 with Savea providing impact off the bench.

      I don’t think the issue with Aumua is consistency, he was very consistent for the Lions throughout the ITM Cup last year. The issue is lack of game time, he hasn’t played enough rugby to show his worth. I hope he gets a starting shot in the next few weeks to show us what he can do at this level.

      • Lol i sense you are up to the rugby champagne, offloading inside your try area and pushing all the way forward with unlimited attacking option
        I mean everybody dreams about this kinda if globetrotter style rugby (barbarians) but we are talking about New Zealand and the options between winning every match or winning every match
        I Think you underestimate the skill set of the kiwi pack… they can do anything including scoring tries offloads and long range passes

    • Savea has started to regain some form but he is lacking speed and finishing ability compared to previous years. Naholo is one of the best wingers of Super Rugby and is almost guaranteed a spot on form.

      The question is will they pick Lam, Naholo and Ioane as they are all very big wingers…

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