The world’s best team and reigning World Champions are definitely the frontrunners for the showpiece event in Japan and have a plethora of options across the park as the excellent domestic and youth structure continues to churn out All Blacks in the making.
Once again the Christchurch based Crusaders sit atop the Super Rugby ladder and their forwards continue to dominate opposition packs.
New Zealand have a very good set of test props in Karl Tu’inukuafe and Owen Franks, they will both be in the squad along with their understudies Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala. Steve Hansen will want at least one more prop in his World Cup squad.
Chiefs Angus Ta’avao and Ofa Tu’ungafisi both worthy contenders for us the more experienced Blues prop takes this one.
Props: Owen Franks (Crusaders), Nepo Laulala (Chiefs), Joe Moody (Crusaders), Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafisi (both Blues)
In between them Codie Taylor, Dane Coles and Nathan Harris are the established trio. If you had to bet on an outsider upsetting the established order you would bet on Liam Coltman but with New Zealand limited to just 31 players for a World Cup it looks as though he will miss out.
Hookers: Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Nathan Harris (Chiefs), Codie Taylor (Crusaders)
New Zealand have arguably the best second row pairing in the world with the caveman from New Zealand, Sam Whitelock and the athletic Brodie Retallick. Another certainty for New Zealand’s second row is the largest of the Barrett brothers, Scott.
Jackson Hemopo has impressed in recent times and will definitely be in Hansen’s mind when he names his squad and he will fight it out with Blues captain, Patrick Tuipulotu for what will most likely be the final spot in the squad. Hemopo gets in due to form.
Locks: Scott Barrett (Crusaders), Jackson Hemopo (Highlanders), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)
In the back row with space again limited I would expect New Zealand to go with five players here.
Here there is one player that gets in without question and that is the departing captain, Kieran Read.
New Zealand are blessed at openside flanker, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and Matt Todd all very strong at international level but with space limited one will miss out. Sam Cane is the leader and starts for New Zealand. Savea’s ability to slot in at eight makes him the winner in a shootout with Todd,
At blindside there is the obvious first choice Liam Squire who is looking more and more like an All Black with every test he plays, like Savea has the versatility to cover eight allowing Hansen to give the final spot to another six.
There is of course Vaea Fifita and Dalton Papalii both of whom were part of the squad that toured Europe in November but our pick is the outstanding, breakout player of last season Shannon Frizell.
Back Row: Sam Cane (Chiefs), Shannon Frizell (Highlanders) Kieran Read (Captain, Crusaders), Ardie Savea (Hurricanes), Liam Squire (Highlanders)
Catch our take on the backs tomorrow!