Ollie Ritchie: Who could be 2024 All Blacks bolters under new coach Scott Robertson?

OPINION: With another season of Super Rugby Pacific about to get underway, there'll be no keener observer this year than Scott Robertson.

The new All Blacks coach will be without several key members of last year's squad, due to either retirement or eligibility.

That said, as it does every year, the Super Rugby season will be a chance for those on the cusp of a call-up to show Robertson and his assistants how valuable they could be in test rugby.

With players like Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Dane Coles, Aaron Smith and Richie Mo'unga no longer in the picture, there's no better opportunity for those on the fringes to stake their claims.

Ruben Love in action for the Hurricanes.
Ruben Love in action for the Hurricanes. Photo credit: Getty Images

While that's a lot of experience for Robertson to lose, Super Rugby always delivers bolters. Cam Roigard is a prime example.

The Hurricanes halfback hadn't even locked down a starting spot this time last year and suddenly flourished in a black jersey. How he was left out of Ian Foster's 23 for the business end of last year's World Cup still beggars belief, but Roigard is proof, if Super Rugby form is compelling, an All Blacks call-up is possible. 

While this year also presents recall opportunities for players like Stephen Perofeta, Folau Fakatava, TJ Perenara and Sevu Reece, Super Rugby is sure to deliver players waiting for their first opportunity.

Who could be the next in line this year?

Ruben Love

Love's ceiling is very high and the Hurricanes weapon has proved he can be an out-and-out game changer with ball in hand.

Love and coach Clark Laidlaw need to nail down just what his best position is and stick with it. I'd love to see him handed the reigns at first-five, a more-than-capable game driver, who would flourish outside Roigard or Perenara, and inside Jordie Barrett.

Robertson will have a close eye on Love this year and if he can produce consistent performances, he may well find himself in the picture.

Peter Lakai

No-one will benefit more from Savea's Japanese sabbatical than Lakai. With stacks of talent and potential waiting to be unlocked, he's a strong ball carrier from the back of the scrum, who can make a menace of himself at the breakdown.

Peter Lakai in action for the Hurricanes.
Peter Lakai in action for the Hurricanes. Photo credit: Getty Images

He's about to benefit from consistent starting minutes for the Hurricanes and if he can translate that into consistent performances, he could well find himself near a black jersey at some point this year. 

Noah Hotham

Very much one for the future. At just 20, Hotham still has much to learn about his own game, but in his first season of Super Rugby last year, he showed he was right at home.

A snappy passer and good decisionmaker around the breakdown, he is just what the All Blacks need to shore up their future stocks at halfback in the post-Smith era. 2024 may yet be too soon for Hotham, but he has tremendous upside and a spot on the end-of-year tour shouldn't be out of the question.

Noah Hotham scores a try for the Crusaders.
Noah Hotham scores a try for the Crusaders. Photo credit: Photosport

He also has one big advantage - he was first spotted by Robertson and brought into the Crusaders squad last year. Robertson rates Hotham incredibly highly and you can expect both eyes will be on how the young halfback develops this season.

Cortez Ratima

Another young halfback with plenty of upside, Ratima will benefit from Brad Weber's departure to France and finally earn some consistent minutes for the Chiefs.

He has shown in his 26 appearances for the Chiefs he can break a game open, and just how his relationship with Damian McKenzie develops this season will certainly be a point of interest for Robertson and his coaching group.

Smith's retirement from international rugby means the door is wide open at halfback. Expect incumbents Roigard and Finlay Christie to be given a fair crack there, but just who fills the third spot is very much up for grabs.

Cortez Ratima in action for the Chiefs.
Cortez Ratima in action for the Chiefs. Photo credit: Getty Images

Ratima has a decent chance to try and take that spot this year, alongside players like Perenara and Folau Fakatava, so Robertson has no shortage of options.

Sam Darry

In 23 appearances for the Blues, Sam Darry is still waiting for his breakout moment. A towering lock full of potential, whose gametime in Super Rugby has been somewhat limited in recent years, 2024 shapes as a prime season for him to stake his claim.

Darry, 23, is the senior lock at the Blues, with Patrick Tuipulotu on the sidelines for at least the first few rounds, and he has the chance to show just how much potential lies within his huge 2.03m frame.

Sam Darry in action for the Blues.
Sam Darry in action for the Blues. Photo credit: Photosport

With Whitelock and Retallick no longer in the picture, lock is a key position for Robertson to fill and if Darry can put together consistent performances for the Blues, he may well find himself on the way to a black jersey.

It could also be the first mother-son combination in the All Blacks, with mother Kat serving as All Blacks nutritionist.

Ollie Ritchie is Newshub rugby reporter. Join Newshub for live updates of 2024 Super Rugby Pacific