The best of the next All Black generation

Highlander Roar Rookie

By Highlander, Highlander is a Roar Rookie

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    If Saturday is moving day in golf tournaments, then the second year after a rugby world cup appears to be the time to put your hand up, get a crack at the big jersey and see if you can get on the Rugby World Cup Express.

    In 2017 no fewer than 55 men wore the black jersey of New Zealand, a number inflated by the trial run nature of the French XV mid-week match. However a string of injuries and external events saw a number of first-choice players absent for extended periods, their replacements were elevated, and thus spots on the bench and in the wider squad became open.

    Coach Steve Hansen, to his credit, stuck with a predetermined rotation plan and had to go deeper into his roster than he ever thought likely, but he also ensured that his bench players received significant minutes no matter the opposition or the state of any individual match. That can take real courage and faith in your players. Kudos Sir Shag.

    The bench use minutes of the Rugby Championship backed this up, 350 minutes more than his South African counterpart.

    But what is the use of testing greater depth if that deep dive doesn’t discover a diamond or two? So how well did Coach Hansen and his assistant team do?

    The darkness seal of approval
    Here are some of those who are not only set for a long stint in the Black, but who will keep their rivals honest in the lead-up to Japan.

    Jordie Barrett – Taranaki water, gotta buy the rights to that somehow. A few rough edges but when you debut against the Lions it’s expected. Talent to burn, and big and fast with it.

    Liam Squire – from peripheral squad member to starter, love his aggression, needs to find that balance to both hit and carry in the same game.

    Rieko Ioane – if you displace the Bus you must be doing okay. I hear good things and I think he might just make it going forward. And he’s only 20.

    Rieko Ioane New Zealand Rugby Union Championship Bledisloe Cup 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Kane Hames – He’s a disruptive little man, never gives a tight-head a second off, will be our bench loosie when Moody returns.

    Nepo Laulala – a destructive tighthead – hurrah! – back from injury, looking good, partnership with Hames never bested this year

    Waisake Naholo – just starting to feel like he is comfortable in the jersey now, outrageous try scoring rate in Super Rugby and is transferring that upwards now. Two top drawer finishes against Wales.

    David Havili – time, time, time, the kid looks like he has tons of it and that can’t be coached.

    Richie Mo’unga – learnt quickly at the Lions ‘up in your face’ school, far more assured since.

    Luke Whitelock – yes, I know he had a cap before, but this is the only guy who even looks like a potential back up for the captain.

    Insufficient data, captain
    Jack Goodhue, Dillon Hunt and Asafo Aumua are all being watched.

    We’ve seen glimpses of the future from all named here and it’s very very good, but what I think is most impressive from this little group is how they look completely assured every time they walk out on the park.

    Must improve – and fast
    Those named here have lots of good stuff, but with flaws that will continue to get exposed at the very top level.

    Scott Barrett – I can see a sort of rugby limbo opening where a player will not be big enough for a lock nor dynamic enough to be a back rower. SB seems to fit this label perfectly.

    Damien McKenzie – this one will divide the nation more than the flag referendum. No-one else on this earth scores the try he did in South Africa, just outrageous. But running sideways and poor decision-making put New Zealand under all sorts of pressure this season. I for one am just not seeing the trade off as worth it yet.

    Vaea Fifita – Coach Hansen has been very clear here – hit more rucks, don’t walk past any, knock people over. He’s not doing it yet.

    Ngani Laumape – No one wants to tackle this guy, ever. All the bits are there just got to put them together. Defensive reads will be his big work on in 2018, he won’t nail down a midfield spot without this improving.

    And it’s time to go
    Patrick Tuipulotu – too many times in the team and not enough impact.

    Mitch Drummond – hope you enjoyed it Mitch but it’s time to go.

    Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen – we cannot have Super Rugby’s most penalised prop in the jersey, just don’t think he has the scrum skills needed.

    Akira Ioane – one more upright ball carry and I’ll kick him myself. Not AB ready yet. Did ok in France but would be selected on trust if picked again.