How the All Blacks can defend the World Cup
104 Have your say
New Zealand rugby player Ma'a Nonu, left, gestures towards teammate Sonny Bill Williams. AP Photo/Ross Land
While the 2011 World Cup triumph is still fresh in many minds, New Zealand Rugby will already be looking to 2015. Here’s who I would like to see in three years time in the United Kingdom when the All Blacks try to defend the Rugby World Cup.
As many know, the squad for 2011 was the oldest All Black squad by a long away. The squad contained a massive amount of experienced players and many have since retired or simply won’t be there in 2015.
Harsh decisions I feel will need to be made this season, or 2013 at the latest, to have the best possible squad. Players who have served the All Blacks well in 2011 that will likely be dead weight in 2015 need to be phased out.
So with 2015 just three years away, I think a line needs to be drawn in the sand now and the 30 players needed to defend the cup must be developed and groomed towards this goal.
With June internationals, the Four Nations and end of year tours, there is the potential to get 30-40 Test matches of experience before the World Cup
First up is the forwards and a few won’t be around in 2015 or shouldn’t be. Woodcock, Mealamu, Hore, Williams and Thorn are five that come to mind.
For props I would look to Ben and Owen Franks as must includes. They are 28 and 24 and already have decent test experience.
I would look at blooding a player like Ben Afeaki as well. At 24 he has a big future. Ben Tameifuna at 20 has great potential as a prop and can be developed as a third hooker. Charlie Faumuina at 25 is another with youth on his side that can be developed.
These five props will be 31, 27, 27, 23 and 28 come World Cup time.
For hookers I see a big issue. Hore and Mealamu are both 33. I would not want to go into the World Cup with a 36yo hooker. The major issue is Hore, Mealamu and Flynn all are over 30 and all hog domestic spots which means not much new talent is emerging.
I would look at Hika Elliot who is 26 as the way forward here. Dane Coles at 25 is another option but this is an area of big concern for 2015 that needs to be addressed. Three of the five Super Rugby sides have hookers in their twilight years.
Elliot will be 29 and Coles 28 when the next World Cup comes around.
Time for the locks and Brad Thorn is gone and Ali Williams at 31 is well past his used by date. These two need to be replaced for 2015 and a lot of talent is coming through the ranks in the lock department.
Players like Sam Whitelock 23, Brodie Retallick 20, Luke Romano 26 and Jarrad Hoeata 28 are the future here. Fortunately, the selectors have realised this too.
Next up is the loose forwards. Richie McCaw, although 31, is too good to be overlooked. He will be 34 come World Cup time and in the twilight of his career but his leadership and skill on the field should defy his age. Keiran Read, 26, also picks himself.
As good as Richie is, a replacement at seven must be groomed and that player is Matt Todd in my opinion. At 24, Todd has shown himself to be an impressive replacement for McCaw at Super XV level and the time has come to transition him into the All Blacks.
Luke Whitelock 21, Victor Vito 25, Brad Shields 21 and Sam Cane 20 are all talented younger players, who with a bit of experience behind them can develop into world class loose forwards.
By 2015 the loose forwards in this list will be 34, 29, 27, 28, 24, 24 and 23
Next is the halfbacks and after having such a dearth of quality halfbacks, suddenly we have talent galore in the position. The first thing that must be done is ditch Weepu and Ellis. Weepu, although he has been a great servant, is on his way out. Form and fitness are not his friends. Ellis has never been that good to start with and got his spot purely through playing for the Crusaders.
Both may only be 28 but the time to blood new halfbacks is now.
Tawera Kerr Barlow 21, Aaron Smith 23 and TJ Perenera 20 are all fantastic talents and all of them should be developed without haste.
The fly-halves are next. Dan Carter is an automatic pick. Even considering he will be 33 come the next world cup, he has such a brilliant rugby brain that he couldn’t be left out. Aaron Cruden, 23, has come on in leaps and bounds since the World Cup and is the logical heir apparent to Carter. Colin Slade, 24, also has potential if he can overcome his injury issues.
The centres Maa Nonu, 30, and Conrad Smith, 31, are getting towards the end of their careers. How good will they be in 2015? Will they be a liability when they are 33 and 34? I would take them in the squad but by 2015 I would envisage a starting line-up of Sonny Bill Williams, 26, and Richard Kahui, 26. Both will be 29 come the next World Cup and should be at their peak.
On the wings I would go with Julian Savea, 21, Zac Guildford, 22, Cory Jane, 29, and Hosea Gear, 28. This will provide a solid mix of youth and experience.
Finally that leaves the fullbacks. Israel Dagg 23 is an automatic selection. His youth, experience and ability to play the wings means he should always be one of the first picked for any squad. Ben Smith 25 and Andre Taylor 24 are two others who should be developed.
These are the players I feel the All Blacks need to develop for 2015.
By the time 2015 rolls around the squad will consist of around half a dozen players who are 30+, half a dozen who are under 25 and a very large core of players in the 25-29 age group This is the stage in most players careers when they start to peak.
Already Hansen has shown a lot of promise in his selections. I hope he stays on track with it and begins to phase out players like Weepu, Ellis, Williams, Hore and Mealamu for the good of New Zealand rugby in the future.
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