Northern assault for champion All Blacks
ALEXANDER LACEY - MOOLOO VIEW UK
OPINION: With the inaugural Rugby Championship trophy under the arm of New Zealand Captain Richie McCaw, the All Blacks fly home via Sydney from another successful campaign, like a battle weary unit being relieved after two weeks of close-combat, trench warfare.
In the last four months, our group of warriors have kept two nations scoreless twice, come close to losing to Ireland for the first time and travelled over twelve thousand miles in the pursuit of perfection; the fight back against a thunderous Springbok offensive has installed this All Black squad as one of the best of all time.
With less than two weeks rest, they will once more assemble to take on the dwindling might that is the current Australian rugby team. A win here will take New Zealand to seventeen consecutive test wins, in the process setting up a record breaking assault on the Northern Hemisphere.
Although an extended squad is expected, it is hard to see who will be left at home and who will be selected from the ITM Cup teams. Up and down the current squad there is no-one that has let the group down.
The tight-five have barely taken a step back at set piece. An additional prop may tour; so too for an extra hooker where Dane Coles or Hika Elliot are the next cabs off the rank. With only three locks during the recent campaign it is probable that a returning Ali Williams will take the fourth spot.
Our loose forwards are settled and their ranks are already swollen with the likes of Adam Thompson, Victor Vito and Liam Messam - all accomplished sixes - likely to be retained. McCaw is resting in the new year so will travel; understudy Sam Cane has not put a foot wrong when given the chance.
Number Eight is the selectors worry. Where the Captain can fill in at the back of the scrum like the rest of the other flankers, Grant Fox, the All Black selector, must be concerned that there is not another proven eight that has stood out this term who could challenge Keiran Reid's position.
Alex Bradley, the Morrinsville Sports stalwart who captained Waikato to the Ranfurly Shield win over Taranaki has the guts and desire that is required of an All Black, but being on the wrong side of 30, and not holding the same skill set of Reid, counts against him.
The other prospect would be Ardie Savea of Wellington. Although still shy of 19, the powerful dynamo has excelled at seven and eight for Wellington all season. At six foot two inches he is not the biggest back rower going but has power and pace to burn; one could see him increasing his smallish 89 kilogram frame towards 100 Kg in the off season.
In the backs, surly Piri Weepu will travel in a tri-fecta consisting of Aaron Smith and Tawera Ker- Barlow. Also, where there have been some impressive displays by many fly-halves during the ITM Cup, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett should also be on the plane.
Centre is another area that Steve Hansen and Co will be losing sleep over. Sonny Bill is now a distant memory; his challenger for the first part of the Rugby Championship, Ma'a Nonu, is not sure on his career in New Zealand so the selectors must look for another long-term solution to the twelve jersey.
Tamati Ellison is not the answer, and is more an outside centre along with Ben Smith and Conrad Smith. The decision to let Isaia Toeava leave for Japan may come back to haunt the NZRU.
The back three is still full of running where the continued rotation of Hosea Gear, Julien Savea and Zak Guildford may look to continue pending the last getting back into the squad. A shout could go to All Black Sevens rep, Aucklander Charles Piutau, where, at 20 years of age, he is looking the business at either full-back or wing: New Zealand may look to blood him early before Tonga come knocking on the door.
One the other wing Corey Jane will not be usurped and has struck up a magic combination with Israel Dagg who, in his own right, has developed into the world's premier fullback.
Come November on a chilly Scottish afternoon, whoever runs out onto Murryfield wearing the Black Jersey, one would imagine there will be no experience, motivation or energy lacking to grind the flower of Scotland into the mud.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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