Opinion: No more mystery to All Black squad announcements

Steve Hansen and Grant Fox (Photosport)
Steve Hansen and Grant Fox (Photosport)

There was a time when All Blacks selections had more mystery, but not more fun. 

Saturation coverage of Super Rugby's put an end to that and the kiwi sporting folklore of "the bolter." Steve Hansen is regularly asked who is in contention and is pretty open about the possibilities. The players also know exactly where they stand, as the All Blacks coaches regularly visit Super Rugby franchises.

However, it's still fun because there are now so many permutations and quality players, never mind people's provincial biases.

The challenge nowadays comes from picking which fringe players will make it the 32. Great succession planning means we can all pick the core of the squad. While there's debate over whether Aaron Cruden or Lima Sopoaga will start at first five in the big games, they'll both both be there on Sunday.

It's all about squad balance. Is it a 17/15 or 18/14 split between forwards and backs? In which position do players need to be developed? What utilities do you need to create that balance? 

For me, because of the skill-sets of the talent we have right now and also the need for certain positions to be developed, a 17/15 split seems the right way to go. We need to develop flankers and midfielders, so my focus is there.

You could carry six props, three hookers, three locks, four loosies and a number eight in the forwards. Behind them, three halfbacks, three first fives, five midfielders, two wings and two fullbacks.

There is room for three blindsides. Jerome Kaino, and rising stars Jordan Taufua and Elliot Dixon, can all make the 32 because they have utility value. We also need to start finding the right long term successor to 33 year old Kaino. Sam Cane and Ardie Savea are probably all you need as opensides, with Savea the perfect impact loosie off the bench. If one goes down long term you can always call in Matt Todd. 

The same goes for the three locks, where you can have one of Luke Romano or Patrick Tuipulotu waiting in the wings.

In the backs, The debate could be between carrying five midfielders and two fullbacks, or four midfielders and three fullbacks.

World Cup winners Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Sonny Bill Williams have left a hole that needs to be redeveloped. Charlie Ngatai, Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa should walk in. But would you take George Moala and Seta Tamanivalu as well.

You can afford five midfielders because Moala and Tamanivalu have both played wing, so you could carry Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo as the only specialists out wide. 

That would mean only two fullbacks. Vice captain Ben Smith will be there and Israel Dagg has been in top form this season, while there's a strong argument to blood Damian McKenzie.

Because Dagg could come in for an injury at the drop of a hat, and the utility value of Beauden Barrett, you might side with McKenzie for the June tests. If someone goes down, or you decide McKenzie isn't up to it, then Dagg steps straight back in.

The June series has traditionally been a time to test newcomers and combinations. 

Without disrespecting Wales, the focus can be developing problem areas. If these "fringe" selections are to get game-time in the All Blacks, Sunday is when you should hear their name, rather than the Rugby Championship.


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