The Roar
The Roar


Here’s two All Blacks match-day 23s that could both beat the Lions

Waisake Naholo is in hot form for the All Blacks. (AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Roar Guru
4th May, 2017
3444 Reads

Depth. It’s a great quality to have in a human being. It’s a dimension Olympic divers are grateful for in the pools below. And it’s a crucial aspect to the success of a rugby team.

The world has long marvelled at the depth of New Zealand rugby. A seemingly endless procession of talent rolling off the kiwi production line, immediately fit for purpose to excel on the big stage.

A couple of weeks ago I threw my two cents in with a prediction that the All Blacks will be too hot for the British and Irish Lions to handle on their upcoming tour.

Now I’m going a step further to suggest the next best 23 players in New Zealand would also be good enough to tip up Warren Gatland’s men if, hypothetically, all of the first 23 were somehow incapacitated before the first Test on 24 June.

Below I’ve named my two match-day 23s that I reckon would each win the much anticipated three-Test series.

The Lions’ Kiwi odyssey comprises a brutal ten matches that includes virtual fourth and fifth Tests against the high-flying Crusaders, and the Maori All Blacks on consecutive Saturdays before the three main internationals, plus games against the four remaining Super Rugby franchises, and an opener against a useful looking New Zealand Barbarians team of up-and-comers.

So why have I gone to the trouble of naming a hypothetical shadow All Black 23 when the depth of New Zealand rugby will be on show in every game?

Many of the matches, especially the Maori and Crusaders Saturday games, will likely contain a fair few All Blacks who will double up in the Tests.


So my point with this is to suggest another match-day 23, with no overlap from the men in black chosen for the Tests, would also be good enough to tame the Lions over the course of the series.

Of course, anything’s capable of happening in the seven weeks between now and kick off of the opening Test.

It’s worth noting that the below selections are just one bloke’s opinion of the best and next best 23 players in New Zealand at the moment.

I’ve totally ignored who’s staying put and who’s heading overseas at the end of 2017 as a factor in my selections.

And I’m not trying to second guess who Steve Hansen and company will choose for the top team and so will almost certainly be wrong on, at the very least, a couple of counts.

First there’s no room in my All Black squad for Sonny Bill Williams, despite the fact you can bank on the well-heeled despiser of financial institutions being picked as one of the starting centres, most probably outside Ryan Crotty at 13.

All Blacks player Sonny Bill Williams


I just don’t think Sonny Bill Williams’ form since coming back from his Achilles warrants a place in the 23, let alone a start in the most contested All Black midfield in living memory, so I gave his spot to Malakai Fekitoa, who has looked both hungry and sharp for the Highlanders this year (this will, of course, mean that Sonny Bill Williams will have an absolute blinder against the Tahs tomorrow night).

Actually, it’s not Sonny Bill’s spot to give, it’s Anton Lienert Brown’s, who also misses out on a place in my top All Black squad.

The Chiefs midfielder has yet to reach the giddy heights he attained in his breakout season last year.

Is he suffering from the ‘second-year syndrome’ that afflicts some players the year after they burst onto the scene and become known entities and much bigger targets for opposing defences?

Maybe. Maybe not. I’m just not prepared to risk finding out the hard way.

On the other hand Fekitoa looks to have re-discovered his mojo and come through his own ‘second’ and, indeed ‘third-year syndrome’ after a couple of quiet seasons following his breakout 2014 for both the Highlanders and All Blacks.

The All Black brains trust might also plump for Aaron Smith to start given that the former incumbent seems to have flushed his cubicle tryst and is close to his electrifying best.


But I’ve gone for current incumbent TJ Perenara to wear No.9 on the back of some consistently blistering form for the Hurricanes and, perhaps just as importantly, the eerie understanding he has developed with the world’s best player outside him which will transplant seamlessly into the top team.

TJ Perenara Hurricanes Super Rugby Rugby Union 2016

My selection also assumes that the world class sextet of Dane Coles (calf), Jerome Kaino (knee), Israel Dagg (knee), Nehe Milner-Skudder (foot), captain Kieran Read (thumb) and his deputy Ben Smith (ankle) will all be over their respective injuries in good time for the first Test.

Coles is close now, Smith should only be out for a couple of weeks, while Dagg and Milner-Skudder are due back early June.

Read is a week into an expected six-week lay-off which should have him back with a fortnight to spare after having done all the necessary aerobic and most of the strength stuff in the meantime.

Kaino’s knee is more problematic. While the 34-year-old is forecast to be healed in time, it’ll take a bit for the big Blue to literally get up to speed once the knee is able to resume full load-bearing duties.

But I’ve no doubt the efforts of an army of medicos will be enough to ensure the All Black enforcer is ready to lurk menacingly from the side of the scrum come late June.


A few of you will no doubt cock an eyebrow at the inclusion of Milner-Skudder who has been barely sighted on a rugby field since his World Cup heroics in 2015.

After a virtual 2016 off with a bad shoulder injury, the match-winner was only two games into his comeback this year before again being carted to the sideline with a broken foot in the ‘Canes only loss so far to the Chiefs in Round 2.

However, his comeback game, the 71-6 shellacking of the Rebels the week before, was proof enough to me that he must be picked if fit, even if slightly out of position on the left wing.

In that match he was immediately back to his hot-stepping best, scoring a hat-trick of tries, beating five defenders and making five clean breaks in 14 carries for 84m, looking a threat every time he touched the ball.

I have left Dagg on the bench to make way for my only genuine bolter Vince Aso on the right wing. The Hurricane has been nothing less than a sensation this year with ten tries from his seven games, including three where he has convincingly ‘cracked the ton’ of 100+ run metres.

His most recent outing, at outside-centre against the Brumbies, emblematic of his season: three tries, 131 run metres, eight defenders beaten and four clean breaks.

He looks equally at home at centre and wing which adds immensely to his value. Dagg’s back three versatility also makes him the ideal cover from the bench.



I’m afraid there’s also no room in my squad for Julian Savea. As is typically the case for this time of the year, the Bus rarely looks out of second gear.

This has been thrown into sharper relief by the attacking stars that have been blazing so brightly around him in the ‘Canes’ back division.

Hansen can normally use the June Test window to try and get his big No.11 firing on all cylinders as he tried to do last year before axing him from his entire squad for the second Test against Wales after a sub-par first Test.

However, the white-hot cauldron of a Lions series is no place to be working stragglers back into form.

I also can’t find a spot on the other wing for Julian’s fellow powerhouse, Waisake Naholo, despite the excitement machine playing well for a two-try effort last weekend in the Highlanders’ big win over the Stormers at home.

As much as he’s capable of busting a game wide open with his attacking firepower, he can be error prone and sometimes lacks consistency in the clutch moments, in which there’ll no doubt be a few.



Onto the second 23. Perhaps the most notable aspect in this line-up are the names that aren’t there. Somehow (and I’m sure a few of you will suggest inexplicably so) I’ve found no room in my top 46 for All Blacks Liam Messam, Rieko Ioane, Stephen Luatua, Elliot Dixon, James Parsons, Seta Tamanivalu and Stephen Donald.

Nor is there space for the following players who are week in, week out producing consistently excellent rugby for their respective Super teams: David Haveli, George Bridge, Matt Duffie, James Lowe, Brad Shields, Melani Nanai, Ngani Laumape, Matt Proctor, Richie Mo’unga, Dillon Hunt, Jordan Taufua, Shaun Stevenson, Blake Gibson, Mitchell Drummond, Gareth Evans, Matt Faddes, Vaea Fifita… among more than a few others.

The likes of Lachlan Boshier, Rene Ranger, Shane Christie, Michael Fatialofa and Patrick Tuipulotu weren’t considered due to injury.

Now that’s depth.

Perhaps I should have kicked on and named a third 23 that would give the Lions a run for their money?

So Roarers, where have I gone awry in my selections?


All Blacks Test 23 to defeat the Lions:
1 Joe Moody
2 Dane Coles
3 Owen Franks
4 Sam Whitelock
5 Brodie Retallick
6 Jerome Kaino
7 Sam Cane
8 Kieran Read (c)
9 TJ Perenara
10 Beauden Barrett
11 Nehe Milner-Skudder
12 Ryan Crotty
13 Malakai Fekitoa
14 Vince Aso
15 Ben Smith
16 Codie Taylor
17 Wyatt Crockett
18 Charlie Faumuina
19 Scott Barrett
20 Ardie Savea
21 Aaron Smith
22 Aaron Cruden
23 Israel Dagg

Shadow All Blacks ‘Next best’ 23 to also defeat the Lions:
1 Kane Hames
2 Liam Coltman
3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen
4 Dominic Bird
5 Luke Romano
6 Liam Squire
7 Matt Todd (c)
8 Akira Ione
9 Augustine Pulu
10 Lima Sopoaga
11 Julian Savea
12 Sonny Bill Williams
13 Anton Lienert-Brown
14 Waisake Naholo
15 Damian McKenzie
16 Hika Elliot
17 Pauliasi Manu
18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi
19 Tom Franklin
20 Luke Whitelock
21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow
22 George Moala
23 Jordie Barrett