It’s time we, the punters, started picking the All Black Squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be breaking down who I would select for the squad, and the reasons behind each selection.
The Rugby World Cup is just six months away, and for the sake of this exercise, I’m assuming all players in contention will be fit.
I’ll start with my favourite, & often the most contentious area of selection – the loose forwards.
We don’t know exactly how many loose forwards will be selected.
Players such as Scott Barrett, and IRANZ Graduates Jackson Hemopo & Vaea Fifita, can play lock and some loose forward positions. If one or two of these players are selected at lock, this also provides selectors some breathing room and cover in case of injury in the loose forward area.
For the sake of this exercise however, I will select two players in each position.
The selection criteria across all three positions must consider both the core role of the loose forwards, and the role required of the specific position itself – openside, blindside and the number 8.
The core role of the loose forwards trio is often overlooked. It is, put simply, to retain, and regain possession.
Therefore when considering the requirements of each different loose forward position, one must consider the different attributes required from each distinctive role.
For simplicity in this area, I’ve highlighted what I consider to be one of the most important attributes of each position.
A key attribute required of all openside flankers (7) is outstanding anticipation – largely due to their position from set piece and the access that provides at the tackle area.
I believe there are three contenders; Sam Cane, Matt Todd and IRANZ Graduate Ardie Savea.
The latter is currently on fire and to be frank, is currently the best openside & No.8 in the country – although he does lack the height a No. 8 requires to be a world class exponent of aerial possession.
All three have the anticipation & commitment required, therefore it comes down to bonus factors. The dynamic form with the ball in-hand that Ardie displayed against the Highlanders is the X-factor all teams need to win at the highest level.
Therefore, I would select Savea and Cane in this position.
Now let’s talk the demanding role of the of the No. 8. As a key contributor to the core role of retaining and regaining possession, arial contest at kick-off & lineout have also become more critical than ever for this player.
Akira Ioane continues to be a major threat with the ball in-hand, but still lacks what I consider to be the work rate required for an All Black No. 8.
IRANZ Graduate Liam Squire however has the desired work rate.
When he enrolled at IRANZ, I worked with him as his Position-Specific Coach. Alongside the other Staff Coaches on the Course, we profiled him as a No. 8, with blindside as his secondary position option.
Provided Kieran Read will wear the No.8 jersey, Squire has the attributes required if Read faulters.
Finally, the blindside flanker (6) needs to bring is power & physicality. They must be a beast with the ball in hand, and in defence.
Right now, Frizell sits as the standout in my book.
Fifita is currently playing a role he is not really suited to, and IRANZ Graduate Jackson Hemopo isn’t currently getting enough game time to really contest this position.
Given the attributes and capabilities of the other players selected, I believe Akira Ioane would also bring the required physicality in the 6 jersey, and complement the skills of the other loose forwards nicely.
This brings my six selected players to Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Kieran Read, Liam Squire, Shannon Frizell, and Akira Ioane.
Much is left open to debate.
Come September, it will be interesting to see which loose forwards travel to Japan, but more so to see who wears the 6, 7 and 8 jerseys come kick-off in our first match against the Springboks.
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