Victor Vito is a World Cup bolter of sorts, Hosea Gear the unluckiest candidate and Zac Guildford the surprise inclusion, after the most defining All Blacks announcement in four years.
Stuff NZ reports that the back three was always the toughest selection; squeezing eight into six is no easy task. But Gear could feel rightly aggrieved. Coach Graham Henry described him as “the best winger in the world last year”. Now he’s gone. Unwanted.
Guildford has seen little action since impressing against the B-Boks. He was widely tipped to miss the squad, with the Highlanders’ Ben Smith, but his ability to cover both wings gained late traction and he effectively shunted Gear and Sitiveni Sivivatu out the door.
In two tests since returning from a hamstring injury, Gear has not put a foot wrong, without being spectacular.
Rewind the tape of the All Blacks’ only try against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth and you’ll see Gear burst onto an inside ball, break the line and slip a classy offload for Richard Kahui to finish strongly. That wasn’t enough to force the selector’s hand.
Gear can be devastating. He has pace, power and is sound under the high ball, but in a squad of 30 has suffered for being a specialist left winger. His work-rate was a black mark, yet he leaves the All Blacks without a genuine strike wing.
A fractured cheekbone may have cost Sivivatu his place after two standout outings against Fiji and Australia. He was given a second chance after a poor season for the Chiefs. He responded, but obviously not enough, and is a noticeable break from Henry’s faith in experience. It also spells the end of Sivivatu’s 45-test career. Baring injuries, he will head to France early.
Starting the Tri-Nations with a reprieve as injury cover, like Sivivatu, Cory Jane was the big mover. His class shone through.
Isaia Toeava is fortuitous. His strength is a handful and he breaches even the best defences, but too often he wastes those opportunities with errors at crucial moments. While Toeava’s versatility is valued, his prime position is fullback and he won’t get a look in there with Mils Muliaina and the gifted Israel Dagg, who could secure a starting role.
Liam Messam is the other notable casualty. Vito was a surprise call-up to cover the resting Kieran Read, but in a selection rethink, the athletic Vito, who played just 11 minutes off the bench, has ousted the Chiefs No 8.
A nagging sense Messam failed to step up to test level proved correct. And, ultimately, he’s paid the price for an average performance against Fiji.
Jarrad Hoeata was always a fill-in for Anthony Boric, who is set to play his first match for North Harbour this weekend since injuring his foot when the Blues eliminated the Waratahs in June. That in itself is a punt, but Boric outplayed Ali Williams for the Blues and deserves his chance.
The All Blacks may have a formidable No 1 side, but behind the front-liners, make no mistake, there’s an element of patchwork to this squad. Pray for no injuries to key figures, or let the drama begin.
Colin Slade’s errant display against the Boks highlights his frailties as an inexperienced backline director. Is Piri Weepu now Dan Carter’s best back-up? He must be if Sonny Bill Williams is included on the bench for a knockout match, with the need for outside-back cover.
Adam Thomson was exposed by dynamic Springbok flanker Heinrich Brussow. Australia’s David Pocock would do the same. Thomson is a six and there remains a weakness behind Richie McCaw at openside. Tony Woodcock is well short of his best after his problematic foot complaint and there is no specialist loosehead cover with Wyatt Crockett’s omission – and the ‘mobile’ John Afoa was shunted all round the park at the weekend.
New Zealand are favourites for the World Cup, as they should be. It’s at home. There’s the intimidating Eden Park record and the All Blacks would dominate any world XV.
This is a strong squad (16-forward, 14-back split) sure to evoke robust debate. These men are charged with ending 24-years of anguish. The first-choice players can achieve that feat, but if the coaches are forced outside that core group in the latter stages of the tournament, they may encounter problems.
All Blacks World Cup squad
Forwards: John Afoa, Anthony Boric, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (capt), Keven Mealamu, Kieran Read, Adam Thomson, Brad Thorn, Victor Vito, Sam Whitelock, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock.
Backs: Daniel Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Israel Dagg, Andy Ellis, Zac Guildford, Cory Jane, Richard Kahui, Mils Muliaina, Ma’a Nonu, Colin Slade, Conrad Smith, Isaia Toeava, Piri Weepu, Sonny Bill Williams.Tweet