By Scott MacLean
The reality is that the All Blacks side for the <insert brand name> Northern Tour largely picks itself, and that someone would have had to have had an absolute shocker in last night’s Test (and for the All Blacks to have lost) to have missed the plane. Fortunately though, Shaun Veldsman is not an All Black.
There are no real surprises in the tight five. Injuries to Nathan Harris (again) and James Parsons means that Liam Coltman is the next cab off the rank in the hooking stocks, with Taranaki’s Rhys Marshall’s pending overseas move ruling him out. All five props chosen saw time in the Rugby Championship as did all four locks, but there are question marks over both Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick following the win at Eden Park. More on that below.
There is one mild surprise in the loose forward mix. While it was anticipated that a loose forward from Auckland would make the squad, the facts it’s Steven Luatua – back for the first time since 2014 – rather than the highly touted Akira Ioane is an eyebrow raiser. Also of interest will be how the three-headed openside monster of Cane, Todd, and Ardie Savea is deployed.
The tour will give the selectors the chance to bring Aaron Smith back into the side away from the more TMZ-inspired parts of the media, while TJ Perenara will be determined to move up the pecking order rather than slide behind Tawera Kerr-Barlow like he did at the World Cup. Beauden Barrett will look to further assert himself but will need to sort his kicking out with Aaron Cruden and Lima Sopoaga will vie for playing time behind him.
After missing out last year Ryan Crotty leads the midfield mix, and it will be interesting how Shag and Co use that given the rapid and impressive strides Anton Leinart-Brown has made this year that make him arguably the first choice #13. The outside back group comprises last night’s starting trio of Ben Smith, Dagg and Julian Savea, with Waisake Naholo, Damian McKenize and the squads other new boy, Rieko Ioane. McKenzie is the likely deputy for Smith, with the rest destined to rotate amongst the wing positions.
It wouldn’t be amiss to suggest that with the exception of returns for Sam Cane and Aaron Smith that the starting lineup to face Ireland in Chicago will be the same as that that started last night.
The side has also revived the ‘apprentice scheme’ they used with Ardie Savea back in 2013, with starlet Jordie Barrett joining the trip. Making things even better for family patriarch and Taranaki stalwart Kevin ‘Smiley’ is that middle son Scott will also be on tour as injury cover for Whitelock after a solid and underrated campaign for Canterbury, while one more person could yet head away in Wellington’s Tongan-born athletic freak Vaea Fifita, depending on the results of a concussion check for Retallick.
If there’s anything to be read into this squad, it’s that the competition for places won’t ever cease, and with the likes of Nehe Milner-Skudder and Charlie Ngatai undoubtedly looking to make a splash in Super Rugby in comebacks from injury, it bodes well for next year’s massive event – the Lions Tour.
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