Ollie Ritchie: Who's in, who's out - what to expect from huge 36-man All Blacks squad

OPINION: All Blacks coach Ian Foster will name up to 36 players for his first squad of 2021. It's a big squad, isn't it?

I've only come up with 35 names to be perfectly honest - 36 is a lot. Remember, the All Blacks only take 31 to a World Cup.

That 'll include injury cover, guys they just want to have a look at, guys they want to get in and around an All Blacks squad. The World Cup is two years away and they'll want to look at some players that may feature for that tournament.

I've had a go at naming the squad, but you're never going to be 100 percent right and there will always be someone pointing out just who you got wrong, but I'll have a go anyway.

The six props generally pick themselves. The big absentees are Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Joe Moody,  both out with injury, so Moody's Crusaders teammate George Bower should take his place.

Bower is a good performer for the Crusaders and got a taste of the All Blacks environment during the Australian tour in 2020.

In the hookers, Codie Taylor and Dane Coles pick themselves, but Samisoni Taukei'aho of the Chiefs should get the nod for the first time.

He's had a great Super Rugby season and only just edges out Asafo Aumua. He's a strong ball carrier, as is Aumua, but he's probably more consistent around the lineout. 

He'll be a good player for Foster and co. to have a look at, especially with Dane Coles nearing the end of his career.

Ethan Blackadder in action for the Crusaders
Ethan Blackadder in action for the Crusaders. Photo credit: Photosport

Don't expect any surprises in the locks, barring the return of Brodie Retallick, alongside the quartet of Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa'i and probable All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock.

Captain Sam Cane is missing from the loose forwards, out of action with a torn pec, but that doesn't mean any shortage of quality.

Crusaders loose forward Ethan Blackadder could be a bit of a bolter. He's been outstanding in Super Rugby - an absolute menace at the breakdown, loves the collision zone and an all-round loose forward.

Luke Jacobson of the Chiefs should also return to the All Blacks ranks. He burst onto the scene in 2019 and made the World Cup squad, but has been riddled with injuries since then. 

It'd be tough to see him miss out.

Ollie Ritchie: Who's in, who's out - what to expect from huge 36-man All Blacks squad

In the backs, TJ Perenara is ineligible until he plays a match for a New Zealand team this year, so Finlay Christie of the Blues could be the man to take the role of the third halfback, behind Aaron Smith and Brad Weber. That's a bold guess from me. 

Would I be surprised to see him in there? Absolutely not, but I think he's been very good for the Blues and if you want to have a look at a third halfback option, I wouldn't be surprised to see him come in.

There's no surprises at No.10, with Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga the specialists, and Damian McKenzie providing utility cover.

The midfield has a few gaps, with Jack Goodhue out for the year, Anton Lienert-Brown sidelined for up to six weeks and Ngani Laumape heading off to France.

I've got David Havili, who has been the best midfielder in the country this season and should start alongside Rieko Ioane.

Ollie Ritchie: Who's in, who's out - what to expect from huge 36-man All Blacks squad

Peter Umaga-Jensen is the beneficiary of Lienert-Brown's injury. After getting a taste of All Blacks rugby last year, the Hurricanes midfielder's had a quiet 2021, with Jason Holland using Billy Proctor ahead of him. 

But Foster deemed him good enough last year and I can see him wanting to have another look this year.

In the outside backs, Leicester Fainga'anuku could be a bit of a bolter, with the All Blacks missing first-choice winger Caleb Clarke, who's chasing Olympic gold in Tokyo.

Fainga'anuku has proven his worth this season with the Crusaders and he can play in midfield as well, just as comfortable in the centres as he is on the wing.

Jona Nareki of the Highlanders is unlucky to miss out, but Fainga'anuku should get the nod as New Zealand's in-form winger.


Props: Nepo Laulala, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Tyrel Lomax, George Bower, Angus Ta’avao, Alex Hodgman

Hookers: Codie Taylor, Dane Coles, Samisoni Taukei'aho

Locks: Sam Whitelock (captain), Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupo Vaa'i

Loose forwards: Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii, Ethan Blackadder, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Luke Jacobson


Halfbacks: Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Finlay Christie

First-fives: Richie Mo'unga, Beauden Barrett

Midfielders: Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Peter Umaga-Jensen

Outside backs: Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Damian McKenzie, Will Jordan

Ollie Ritchie is Newshub's rugby editor