Ah, it's that time of year when every armchair critic gets to put their two cents in about who they would select in the All Blacks for the upcoming International season.
What we have below is the Rugbyheads pick at the guys that will be in the running for All Black Jersies this season. The guys in bold are the likely starting 22, the other guys are all possibles and may well be involved in the training squad but probably won't make the playing team.
|Jersey||First Choice||Second Choice||In Contention|
|1||Dave Hewitt (CAN)||Karl Hayman (OTA)||Greg Feek (CAN)|
|2||Mark Hammett (CAN)||Tom Willis (OTA)||Kevin Mealamu (WAI)|
|3||Greg Somerville (CAN)||Kees Meeuws (AUK)||Carl Hoeft (OTA)|
|4||Chris Jack (CAN)||Paul Tito (WEL)|
|5||Norm Maxwell (CAN)||Simon Maling (OTA)|
|6||Rueben Thorne (CAN)||Taine Randell (OTA)|
|7||Richie Mccaw (CAN)||Marty Holah (WAI)|
|8||Jerry Collins (WEL)||Scott Robertson (CAN)||Paul Miller (OTA)|
|9||Byron Kelleher (OTA)||Justin Marshall (CAN)||Danny Lee (WAI)|
|10||Andrew Mehrtens (CAN)||Carlos Spencer (AUK)|
|11||Jonah Lomu (WEL)||Caleb Ralph (CAN)|
|12||Aaron Mauger (CAN)||Pita Alatini (WEL)||Paul Steinmetz (OTA)|
|13||Tana Umaga (WEL)||Mark Robinson (CAN)||Ryan Nicholas (OTA)|
|14||Doug Howlett (AUK)||Roger Randle (WAI)|
|15||Leon 'Rangi' Macdonald (CAN)||Christian Cullen (WEL)|
Some comments on our selection policies:
Combinations count, and the Crusaders players benefit from this. Combinations are most important in the forward pack and inside backs though and therefore we aren't so one-eyed that we think guys like Ralph should make the ABs just because they had a great season on the wing. Any of the NZ Super 12 wingers would have looked good if they had the opportunities the likes of Ralph, and earlier in the season Maddock, got this year. That doesn't mean they are the best in their position though and we have tried not to get sucked into picking Crusaders by default.
We have gone for a Crusaders combo in the tight 5 though. Jack and Hammett (with Oliver out) are probably the only two certain starters in this group, but as a unit these 5 (Feek figures in the mix to but we prefer Hewitt) have done the business, so Maxwell, Somerville and Hewitt get the nod here.
Our backups in the Tight are all Blue and Gold. Willis gets the nod at Hooker (again due to Oliver's injury), we have taken Hayman as our prop reserve just because of his versatility, and Simon Maling has backed up his selection for last seasons European tour with a standout Super12 and gets the reserve locking position.
This area is pretty tricky. We have gone with Mccaw and Thorne but have resisted picking Scott Robertson at no. 8 as we still have questions over his abilities to cut it at the highest level (although he does look much better at 8 than 7). Instead we have gone for hard-man Jerry Collins at the back of the scrum, his fierce never-say-die defence and barnstorming runs on attack get him the spot.
The reserve loosies spots are the trickiest ones. Taine has done enough to be considered again, and his versatility makes him the obvious choice for utility loosie off the bench. Unfortunately with only 7 bench spots there probably won't be a spot for Holah or Robertson, although maybe Thorne could be considered as lock cover, in which case Maling would miss out and Holah would get a spot on the sideline.
If you were picking purely on combinations then Marshall, Mehrts, Mauger and Umaga would be the safe bet here, but like much of the country we feel that Kelleher still has the edge over Marshall at No 9, so Marshall gets the bench half-back spot.
Marshall has done nothing wrong and deserves a spot. If one of the top two half-backs goes down with an injury then Mark Robinson (NH) or Danny Lee would be our choice.
Unlike Half-back deciding on the 10/12 and 13 cover is pretty darn tricky. If he was healthy then you would play it safe and give a spot to Tony Brown because of his goal-kicking, defense and experience at combining with Kelleher and Marshall, but he's out until the middle of the NPC so he's not even in the picture. Even if he was available we feel Carlos Spencer is the best option here. He brings a lot more flair to the mid-field, is a competent goal-kicker, and has also proved that he can cover very well at Full back. Yeah we know, it's Carlos, but we have to admit he has played pretty damn well this season.
This doesn't give us any cover at center though, although Nathan Mauger and Leon MacDonald could both slide in there for some game time, and even though Cully's not great there he does have experience at the position.
One other possible scenario would be to pick Alatini or Robinson as 12/13 cover and leave the first-five cover to Aaron Mauger. This would mean you could pick Spencer or Cullen primarily as outside back cover.
Everyone expected Cully to bounce back and oust Rangi MacDonald from the starting 15 jersey, but it didn't happen. In fact Macdonald further strengthened his case, even to the point where the feeling we get is that most NZ rugby supporters see Macdonald as firm favourite for the starting role. On the Wing Goldie's retirement has made selection pretty darn simple. The starting spots belong to Dougie Howlett and Jonah Lomu at this stage. While Caleb and Roger have put their hands up they probably haven't done enough to oust Howlett, and if Jonah is fit then he has to get a spot, at least against the Aussies and Northern hemisphere teams who are scared stiff of the big fella!
Cully gets the nod as fullback (and at a pinch, wing) cover. He's definitely not back to his best but he has shown flashes of brilliance, and coming off the bench all he needs is a flash and he could win a game. Roger Randell is probably the unlucky one here, there just isn't enough space for a specialist winger on the bench, if there was though we'd take him ahead of Ralph.
Players not considered:
Ruled out due to injury, lack of form or retirement (meaning we would have considered these guys if available or in form) are: Tony Brown, Jeff Wilson (retired, sniff sniff), Troy Flavell, and Ron Cribb.
Let us know your team on the Discussion board!