Part two analysing the All Blacks and picking our squad just six months out from the 2019 World Cup.
You can find part one and our forwards here.
At half back New Zealand are strong and there are two scrum-halves that would make most international teams. Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara both travel. Steve Hansen is likely to take a third scrum-half as part of his initial squad.
There are many options Augustine Pulu, Mitchell Drummond and Brad Weber all capped by New Zealand but Hansen will likely stick with the form scrum-half of last season Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, he adds some excitement to the settled pair of Smith and Perenara.
Scrum-Halves: TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Chiefs)
At fly-half there is no debate Beauden Barrett is first choice and will remain first choice. Behind him again a really easy choice after last season. Richie Mo’unga is a key part of the Crusaders success, he kicks well out of hand and is a good attacking player.
Fly-Halves: Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders)
One are of considerable depth for New Zealand is centre especially with the recent return of World Cup winner Ma’a Nonu.
New Zealand’s Mr Consistent Ryan Crotty is a class act and goes about his job quietly yet efficiently and must be a part of Hansen’s squad. Alongside him his Crusaders partner in crime Jack Goodhue has the makings of a really good player. He’s in great form, he’s fast and got some real power, he offers New Zealand something really quite special in the midfield.
Behind the Crusaders duo there are so many options Matt Proctor is a very good player but will probably miss out, Vince Aso is another player that is on the peripheries of the picture.
One man very much front and centre is Sonny Bill Williams, can be a bit of a marmite player but certainly talented. It is shown by previous winning sides experience is key the proven big game performances and experience of the hulking centre make him an integral part of our squad.
We had trouble picking our fourth and final centre between powerful runner Ngani Laumpae and the skilful ball player Anton Lienert-Brown. The way Laumape has played over the past few seasons and the explosive presence he can offer make him our final pick.
Centres: Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue (both Crusaders), Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes), Sonny Bill Williams (Blues)
These leaves five spaces in the back three to complete our 31-man squad.
Tries are going to be important in Japan especially with bonus points on offer in the group stage the same as in 2015. New Zealand have arguably the best wing in the world in Rieko Ioane, he’s a dangerous finisher with pace to burn.
It’s again a really competitive position, with him there is Ben Smith, a talented fullback and his ability to play wing is an added bonus. Talking of versatility New Zealand are going to need a player that can cover ten should the worst happen and Barrett get injured, after all look at the 2011 World Cup. Damian MacKenzie is that man. Not only can he cover fly-half but he’s also the best counterattacking player around.
To compliment Ioane, there is a wealth of options but very much leading the charge is Waisake Naholo, the winger is another speed merchant but Naholo really excels in his evasion, he has a low centre of gravity and a powerful leg drive.
Jordie Barrett is just outstandingly brilliant, creative, quick, dangerous. We have left him out, we have gone for a relative bolter in the shape of Ben Lam. He may not be as prolific as he was last time out but is still a danger man.
Back Three: Rieko Ioane (Blues), Ben Lam (Hurricanes), Damian MacKenzie (Chiefs), Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith (both Highlanders)
There we have it our 31-man squad for New Zealand, next up Wales check that out later this week. Who would you pick if you were Steve Hansen hit us up in the comments section!