Still very much the team to beat heading into 2019 we take a look at who’s booked their ticket to Japan and who will watching from afar. Here’s our look at New Zealand’s options.
This year has seen the meteoric rise of the frighteningly talented Karl Tu’inukuafe, out of nowhere he has made himself Steve Hansen’s first choice. At 25 years old he has his best prop years ahead of him. Alongside him there is veteran the 106 cap Owen Franks. Franks has been a stalwart for New Zealand for a long time.
Joe Moody is another player that has been around a long time and we know from history that experience counts at a World Cup. On the tighthead side behind Franks there are three very strong options with Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen all capped and with Hansen likely to take five props it will be a tough decision deciding which one to take although November suggests Tu’ungafasi is leading the charge. Add into the mix the uncapped duo of Tim Perry and Angus Ta’avao and it’s an area of strength for New Zealand.
In between the props things are a little clearer, Codie Taylor and Dane Coles are by far and away the best hookers in New Zealand. They offer so much more than anyone else.
New Zealand will probably need a third option in case one of their frontline options gets injured. The Chiefs Nathan Harris seems the obvious option but there could be a case made for the Highlanders Liam Coltman after a strong season for him in Super Rugby. Some tough calls lie ahead for the selectors.
Second row, New Zealand have the best pairing in the world in their ranks with Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock. They have to go. Then there is the less glamorous Barret brother, Scott who had an immense title winning season with the Crusaders and has been a revelation for the All Blacks this year.
Behind them there maybe space for one more lock, there are a couple of viable options, Patrick Tuipulotu, he offers a lot in the loose and is a very capable lineout option which could be key with quick turnarounds Retallick won’t be able to play every game. The other option is Jackson Hemopo who has three caps. A more physical presence than Tuipulotu but less experienced.
One area that will be interesting is the back row, some very big calls to be made here. Despite growing calls from the public to drop him Kieran Read is likely to be captain in Japan.
Sam Cane is still very much a valuable weapon for New Zealand, the traditional ‘fetcher’ and leads the charge despite pressures from the outstanding Ardie Savea and Matt Todd. Todd has been great for the Crusaders but with spaces limited in the back row and Savea’s versatility could see him forced out.
Shannon Frizell is the bolter coming out on nowhere and would be a worthy addition to the All Blacks, he has the pace and power to make a serious difference and bring a new dynamic to New Zealand. Liam Squire will be looking over his shoulder at the 24 year old coming into 2019. The final man in contention is Akira Ioane, uncapped and raw but definitely talented, must be something in the water at the Ioane household, with his brother Rieko being one of the best wings in the world.
There is also the presence of Vaea Fifita who has been in and around the New Zealand squad all season but with the restriction of just 31 players he could be one of the unlucky ones.
On the Plane: Kieran Read, Owen Franks, Brodie Rettalick, Sam Whitelock, Karl Tu’inakuafe, Codie Taylor
In the Departure Lounge: Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Scott Barrett, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane
Checking In: Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Matt Todd
Packing: Nepo Laulala, Nathan Harris, Patrick Tuipulotu
Booking Elsewhere: Angus Ta’avao, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Tim Perry, Liam Coltman, Jackson Hemopo, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Vaea Fifita