The amazing thing about the All Black World Cup squad is how many holes there are in it. Four years in the making, it is dotted with untested, unfit, uncertain, under-done selections.
There’s nothing to match the bombshell Australia dropped by naming only two proper hookers, one of whom – Tatafu Polata-Nau – isn’t very good anymore and at best operated in fits and starts.
But as powerful as a top All Black match-day 23 is, there are problems waiting to be launched elsewhere.
Keven Mealamu is running on old legs, likewise Tony Woodcock although he tends to save his best for the black jersey, Codie Taylor is an unknown quantity and looks average, big Charlie Faumuina is well short on game time, a fourth lock couldn’t be found, Liam Messam is going sideways, Victor Vito is a nearly man, Tawera Kerr-Barlow has hardly played this year, TJ Perenara has not stamped his mark at halfback, Colin Slade and Beauden Barrett are not dead-set convincing No.
There are lots of positives which is why the All Blacks are warm to hot favourites. They have tremendous experience among the coaches, a fearless leader in Richie McCaw, and the best players in the world in maybe nine or 10 positions.
The biggest shock. For me, it’s Faumuina, because Nepo Laulala has looked so good, and strong. A prop with a recent neck injury/surgery, a big man who will take time to get match fit, represents a bigger risk than a wing who hasn’t played for months.
The selection to celebrate: Nehe Milner-Skudder. He plays with a skill and freedom that could set the All Blacks and World Cup alight, and most importantly is a wizard at setting things up for others. I love watching Milner-Skudder, and applaud Steve Hansen’s bold faith in a new talent/
As for Waisake Naholo’s alleged miracle cure – nonsense. Traditional, alternative and holistic approaches deserve to be taken seriously and western medicine – including the insidious influence of gigantic pharmaceutical companies – deserves more scepticism.
But that scepticism also extends to the idea that the application of leaves can fix a fracture. It makes a nice story, but wouldn’t stand up to investigation.
As for the announcement from Parliament, the party political broadcast on behalf of rugby by the Minister of Sport brought a tear to the eye but not the right sort, as did all the mentions of the Prime Minister. This is the sort of baby-kissing politics which should be kept out of sport.
All Blacks Rugby World Cup Squad:
Props: Tony Woodcock, Wyatt Crockett, Owen Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks
Hookers: Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu, Codie Taylor
Locks: Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano
Loose Forwards: Jerome Kaino, Liam Messam, Richie McCaw (c), Sam Cane, Kieran Read, Victor Vito
Halfbacks: Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow
First-Fives: Dan Carter, Beauden Barrett, Colin Slade
Midfield Backs: Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Conrad Smith, Malakai Fekitoa
Outside Backs: Waisake Naholo, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea, Ben Smith