Rugby World Cup 2019: Few All Blacks World Cup surprises likely

Flanker Liam Squire is providing an unpredictable edge to what should otherwise be a familiar group of All Blacks named on Wednesday to defend their Rugby World Cup crown.

Steve Hansen will spring few surprises, when he announces his 31-strong squad for Japan in the confines of the Eden Park changing rooms.

New Zealand's last-start 36-0 trouncing of Australia served twin purposes for the veteran coach: convincing the public his team are on track for Japan, and finding solutions for a handful of contestable positions.

One glaring question mark is the availability of dynamic back-rower Squire, who raised eyebrows by making himself unavailable for the Rugby Championship campaign for personal reasons.

A first-choice blindside flanker for Hansen for the last two years, the 28-year- old became the first player since Brad Thorn in 2001 to publicly withdraw from All Blacks contention.

Hansen has said he will await a phone call from Squire to determine his World Cup availability. That call was reportedly made in recent days but New Zealand 

Rugby can't confirm if he is back in the frame.

Another cloud is the fitness of accomplished lock Brodie Retallick, who dislocated his shoulder in the 16-16 draw with South Africa a month ago but should nevertheless make the cut.

With a return date still unclear, four specialist locks are likely to travel to Japan as a safety net.

The most threadbare position is five-eighth, where Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga are set to be the only specialist pivots.

Barrett has established himself as a first-choice fullback this year, leaving Hansen praying that neither suffers injury.

The form of two veterans - prop Owen Franks and outside back Ben Smith - has deteriorated in 2019 but both are expected to be included.

Franks and Smith were in the starting XV who beat Australia in the 2015 final at Twickenham but could struggle to find a berth in the team for the blockbuster opening pool game against South Africa in Yokohama on September 21.

Missing from that great side of four years ago are a group of long-serving stars headed by captain Richie McCaw and five-eighth Dan Carter.

Hansen has successfully built a new team around captain Kieran Read and overseen just six losses in 46 Tests since the last global tournament.


Backs: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Sevu Reece, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo'unga, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Brad Weber.

Forwards: Kieran Read (capt), Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Matt Todd, Liam Squire, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Nepo Laulala, Owen Franks, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Liam Coltman.


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