The Cup 19 podcast: Have the All Blacks picked the optimal midfield combo?

The midfield has been one of the most contentious areas for the All Blacks in recent years, where the depth of talent available has left them spoilt for choice.

That trend has continued in Japam, where the likes of Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, and Jack Goodhue have meant a steady rotation in the 12 and 13 jerseys, as the selectors have taken a 'horses for courses' approach.

With the business end of the tournament looming, Newshub rugby reporter Ross Karl believes Lienert-Brown and Goodhue have justifiably earned their starting spots against the Irish in Saturday's quarter-final.

The Cup 19 podcast: Have the All Blacks picked the optimal midfield combo?

But he did admit a tinge of surprise at one omission.

"That's just a straight nod to form, isn't it?" Karl said on The Cup 19 podcast.

"I presumed that Sonny Bill Williams would've been at 12 come the playoffs because he's been so important to them for so long.

"But it's obvious that Anton Lienert-Brown's performances in recent times can't be ignored."

Form aside, Karl warns there is one aspect where the Lienert-Brown/Goodhue could potentially be found wanting against Joe Schmidt's side.

"I do wonder about the directness in the midfield… do they have that big ball carrier going to the line that they might need to straighten the attack.

"How many of them have the ability to get over the advantage line like Sonny Bill and the ability to offload in multiple tacklers. It's an interesting call.

"But outside of that, it's the form and it's the future, which is great."

WIlliams should offer plenty off the bench against an Ireland midfield missing suspended star Bundee Aki, says Karl, where he expects him to replace Goodhue and push Lienert-Brown out to centre.

"He's an x-factor player, he's a guy that can break a hole and it feels like that should be the way they go."

Listen to the full episode here

Join us at 11:15pm Saturday for live updates of the All Blacks v Ireland Rugby World Cup quarter-final.