Ross Karl: Selection consistency sign of All Blacks greatness

OPINION: The predictability of Sunday's All Blacks team to play Ireland reflects the greatness of the current crop of players.

Ryan Crotty is the only change to the starting 15, with Sonny Bill Williams out injured, while Anton Lienert-Brown comes onto the bench.

The rest are the team that beat England. Come the big games, they’re not taking risks and taking on the world number two is as big as it gets.

Near the top of that list are Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.

Smith will become the All Blacks' most capped halfback, while Retallick and Whitelock will start together for the 50th time.

The 29-year-old passes Justin Marshall's 81 tests and gives another reason why he's the best Kiwi halfback of the professional era, perhaps ever.

And pass is the operative word. 

The pint sized distributor took rugby back to the future.

A generation of Marshalls and Joost van Der Westhuizens had turned halfbacks into yappy loose forwards. They sniped and tackled, but didn’t have the speed of pass.

Smith was the second coming of Graham Bachop.

He emerged from Manawatu and the Highlanders, but it was a New Zealand Māori game against England in 2010 that caught Steve Hansen’s attention. Two years later, Smith made his test debut against Ireland in Auckland.

Since then, his speed to the ruck and rapid pass out of it have helped define the up-tempo All Blacks style under Hansen.

That same year also signalled the arrival of Retallick and his stellar combination with Whitelock. 

On Sunday, they will pass Robin Brooke and Ian Jones' record of 49 test starts.

Hansen rates them as the best Kiwi combination of all-time. It's hard to argue - in fact, it would be hard to argue that there has ever been a better one worldwide.

They are tough and skilful, and both have massive engines.

Last weekend’s victory over England was a great example. They both played 80 minutes and got better as the game went on, dismantling England's lineout.

Retallick is so freakishly gifted that Whitelock's brilliant 107 caps of hard graft and skill get overshadowed. That's saying something.

When you look at Sunday's team sheet, which includes three centurions and three World Players of the Year, you really have to appreciate how good this team is.

Ross Karl is Newshub rugby reporter, currently on tour with the All Blacks