ALL BLACKS SQUAD – FORM REWARDED FOR SOME NOT FOR OTHERS

The selection of five new caps in the 36-man All Blacks squad announced by head coach Ian Foster is refreshing and much needed but  questions surround a couple of selections in particular.

The difference a day makes

Dallas McLeod simply blasted down the selectors door with consistently good performances both in mid-field and on the wing for the Crusaders as did his team-mate, winger Leicester Fainga’anuku and yet another standout Crusader, young prop Tamaiti Williams.

A BOLTER BUT NOT TOTALLY UNEXPECTED - DALLAS MCLEOD

How Chiefs fullback/wing Shaun Stevenson missed out is a mystery. He played the house down this season and last but coach Foster said he’s got improvements to work on in defence and both sides of the ball. Well so does one of the wings picked ahead of him, Caleb Clarke who can definitely count himself lucky to make the cut.

At least Stevenson gets an opportunity to train with the All Blacks and be available for the first two matches of the Rugby Championship while Mark Talea recovers from a hamstring injury.

SHAUN STEVENSON WOULD HAVE BEEN IN MOST PEOPLES PICKS FOR SELECTION.

The new caps are all exciting additions. Chiefs star winger Emoni Narawa is a strike weapon with excellent all-round skills. Hurricanes halfback Cam Roigard is a real point of difference, Brad Weber the unlucky player with Findlay Christie getting the nod and Aaron Smith unchallenged as the number one pick. Williams simply could no be ignored and has the added bonus of playing both sides of the scrum. He and his Crusaders team-mates certainly did a number on an awful Blues outfit on Saturday, that performance costing Blues loose-forwards Hoskins Sotutu and Akira Ioane their places, with Chiefs sensation Samipeni Finau deservedly getting the nod alongside his Chiefs team-mates Sam Cane and Luke Jacobson. Crusaders open side flanker Tom Christie is desperately unlucky not have made at least the All Blacks 15 because week in week out he’s been one of the Crusaders best, his ability to force turnovers and his unrelenting defence outstanding.

Hoskins Sotutu failed to make the All Blacks 15 squad as well and he can probably count his anonymous performance against the brilliant Crusaders trio for his demise in the pecking order.

Good to see Braydon Ennor back and that’s reward for his good form which has improved throughout the season. Jack Goodhue missed out but he’ll be challenging for a World Cup place via the All Blacks 15 which plays two matches in Japan next month. Chiefs mid-fielder Alex Nankivell must also have gone close, he’s been one of the most consistently good mid-field backs for the last two seasons and like Goodhue, has an opportunity to make the World Cup side via the All Blacks 15.

Josh Lord is a pleasing inclusion at lock having recovered from a long injury break and Shannon Frizell’s ability to play lock and loose-forward obviously helped his selection.

The big challenge now is for Foster and his fellow selectors Jason Ryan and Joe Schmidt to select players in their right positions then build combinations with just five test matches leading into the World Cup. In that regard Will Jordan hopefully starts at fullback and the biggest puzzle based on his average form this year is how Beauden Barrett will be used. He’s listed as first-five but on current form is a distant third behind Richie Mo’unga and Damian McKenzie.

LEVI AUMUA - UNLUCKY

Also bear in mind there are a host of players currently injured who could be available for World Cup selection and who otherwise would most likely have made this top squad. Those include loose-forward Ethan Blackadder, prop Joe Moody and mid-field back David Havili.

In the All Blacks 15 squad, Moana Pasifika mid-field star Levi Aumua is very unlucky to miss out in a list which has definitely rewarded form this year. Highlanders skipper and flanker Billy Harmon, Crusaders number eight Christian Lio-Willie, Highlanders and former Wallabies prop Jermaine Ainsley and Crusaders lock Quentin Strange among those selected.

The All Blacks campaign kicks off against Argentina at Mendoza on Saturday, July 8, followed by South Africa at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Saturday, July 15.

The All Blacks two-match tour to Japan kicks off on Saturday, July 8 v Japan 15 followed a week later by the Brave Blossoms (Japan).

All Blacks XV Schedule:

·       SATURDAY 8 JULY – Japan XV v All Blacks XV, 8.00PM, CHICHIBUNOMIYA RUGBY STADIUM, TOKYO

·       SATURDAY 15 JULY – Brave Blossoms v All Blacks XV, 9.05PM EGAO KENKO STADIUM, KUMAMOTO 

ALL BLACK FIXTURES:

WEEK 1 vs. ARGENTINA. Saturday 8 July, 4:10PM (7:10AM, Sunday 9 July NZT), Estadio Malvinas, MENDOZA

WEEK 2 vs. SOUTH AFRICA. Saturday 15 July, 7.05PM, Go Media Stadium Mt Smart, AUCKLAND

WEEK 3 vs. AUSTRALIA. Saturday 29 July, 7.45PM (9:45PM NZT), Melbourne Cricket Ground, MELBOURNE

WEEK 4 vs. AUSTRALIA. Saturday 5 August, 2.35PM, Forsyth Barr Stadium, DUNEDIN

Interview & Story by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.

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