All Blacks silence armchair critics
Did the All Black selectors get it right?
In years past, every time an All Blacks team was announced there seemed to be controversy.
For the past two years, the arm chair critics seem to have gone a bit quiet, but for good reason.
The balance this current team has is perfect; we have experienced veterans and energised young guns that seem to be spurring each other on.
Since 2011, the All Blacks have introduced many new players into this team with no drop in standard or results. In fact our team seems to be getting better and better every year.
In the past, the All Blacks had player problems, in terms of depth.
We had one legendary first-five worth playing and every time we lost him, our team was a shell of its former self.
We had a terrible line out, with locks that couldn't nail it at all.
We had a centre problem in the fact that we seemed to be changing who played there every game.
These days when our first-five goes down, we have four other guys who can step up and have stepped up to do the business. Many people even believe that our once legendary first-five is no longer our best choice to start.
In some respects they are right, and in many ways they are wrong.
Dan Carter, when fit and in form, is world class, but he has played very few games in the past two years and that may count against him in the long run. Only time will tell but cream always rises to the top.
If Carter fails to make the Rugby World Cup in 2015, New Zealanders will no longer be in a panic like they were in 2011 and before. We now have Aaron Cruden as a proven fly half who is world class and Beauden Barrett who has been a master class from the bench, changing the tempo of a game in a blink of an eye.
We even have the return to form of Colin Slade and Tom Taylor who filled the fly half role when our first three choices went down injured.
Many would argue that the All Blacks have the best players in the world for every position on the field.
I wouldn't say for every position, but pretty damn close.
There is a reason this current team is the only team to win every test in a calendar year.
The difference between this current All Blacks team and teams from the past is that went a player gets injured, we have another guy ready to fill his shoes and be just as good.
In the past in many positions when injuries struck the All Blacks were forced to field a guy who had little or no experience.
The only position where we don't have an abundance of cover is at hooker and centre. The coaches have noted these positions and have been working on them for some time now.
This is why we can expect to see a third hooker being given a chance in the near future so we have the cover when needed. This is also the case for centre.
Conrad Smith is the world's best centre and has been for many years (even over Brian O'Donnell) but we don't have the best depth to cover him if he is injured.
This is why Ben Smith played centre last year even though his form on the wing was world class.
We would have had sufficient cover for centre if Rene Ranger had stayed in New Zealand but he left for his own reasons. Now the All Blacks are in the hunt for another natural centre and they believe they have found that from the Highlander Malakai Fekitoa.
Fekitoa was a Blues reject, but since he moved south he has smashed down the door to the All Blacks and announced himself.
Surely John Kirwan must be kicking himself.
The thing I like about this team is the potential of the young guys coming up through the ranks, the guys lighting up the Super Rugby field in search of the black jersey.
We can expect some new blood when the squad is finalised and perhaps a shock or two.
Steve Hansen did say that not everybody at the training camps would make the final cut, but more importantly that players who didn't make the training team could still be selected.
The All Blacks selected 36 players for the training camps, but interestingly enough they only had 35 at each of the different camps.
Luke Whitelock and Jeremy Thrush only attended one camp each, so they could be the first two on the chopping board.
Of course injuries between now and then will determine who else makes the cut.
Of the players who might make the All Blacks but didn't make the training squad, I'm picking Jeffery Toomaga-Allen.
This prop is a freak; he is hands down the fastest prop in New Zealand and he has an ability to break tackles, make metres and his work in the scrums is why he made the tour last year.
If he doesn't make the All Blacks cut this time, I'm sure he will make it for the Championship and northern tour.
Given that Cruden is coming off an injury and has had little game time under his belt and the amazing form of Beauden Barrett, I would start Beauden Barrett at first-five. The All Blacks will want to wipe of the dust in the first test so they will go with the tried and true.
14. B Smith
13. C Cmith
10. Beauden Barrett
09. A Smith
03. O Franks
I do think that in time Jerome Kaino will be our starting six, TJ Perenera will overtake Kerr Barlow, Fekitoa will be bench option and Coles will take over the starting position.
Injuries have kept key men out of the team, the likes of Charles Piatau and Luke Romano will make it back when fit.
I'm also going to throw out a left field selection and say that Victor Vito will make the cut and remains the best back up to Kieran Read for the eight spot as his form and skill set has been raised to what the All Blacks demand.
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