With Ireland’s tour of New Zealand just around the corner, I thought I’d take the opportunity to name my All Blacks 23 for the first Test.
With a mix of youth, experience, power and pace, this is my side to take down the formidable Irish threat.
1. Ethan de Groot
He is powerful and mobile. That is what’s needed in the All Blacks’ front row and de Groot has shown both for the Highlanders this season. He gets the starting spot on the loosehead side.
2. Samisoni Taukei’aho
With both Dane Coles and Codie Taylor’s stars beginning to wane, the big, bustling Chiefs hooker will provide much needed go forward for the All Blacks’ pack, while also nailing the basics. Look out Ireland, here he comes!
3. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
The Blues’ big man has been a rock this season. He is powerful, mobile, and rugged. Setting the platform up front is crucial and this young front row has the goods.
4. Brodie Retallick
While he still hasn’t reached his highest heights after a return from Japan last season, big Brodie is the man to help anchor the scrum, secure crucial line out ball, be a pest at ruck and maul time, and take the ball hard into contact.
5. Sam Whitelock (c)
Grey-bearded Whitelock will lead my team. His experience, never-ending motor, smarts and strength are the perfect foil to Retallick at four.
6. Ethan Blackadder
There are two schools of thought at six. Either you name an intimidator (think Jerry Collins or Jerome Kaino) or a work horse. For me, it’s the work ethic of Blackadder that gives him the nod. His head down, bum up approach also complements the other two in my back row.
7. Dalton Papalii
He is youthful, exuberant, powerful and ever present. Papalii gets the rewards for a solid Super Rugby season. His power over the ball, ability to force a turnover, and speed to the breakdown are key.
8. Ardie Savea
While Savea doesn’t fit the mould of a traditional eight, he’s a menace with ball in hand and in defence. His powerful running, full of muscle, speed and skill, will give the All Blacks’ backs important front-foot ball.
9. Aaron Smith
He is still the All Blacks’ best nine, with a laser-like pass, constant presence in the referee’s ear, and experience by the bucket full. His play has become a bit predictable, maybe to suit the Highlanders’ game plan, but his crisp passing and speed to the breakdown are second to none.
10. Beauden Barrett
This is a tough call to make given the arguments for Mo’unga’s ability to control a game from ten, however I can’t leave Barrett out of my starting 15. Coach Ian Foster needs to be in his ear about playing for field position early, and using a mix of chips, cross kicks and grubbers to break up the rush defence. Once he’s set the tone and put doubt in the defenders’ minds, he has all the skills to create havoc.
11. Caleb Clarke
It’s great to see the big man back in the 15s game, fit and raring to go. He earns his place on the power flank due to his impressive form for the Blues. He has pace and power to burn.
12. Quinn Tupaea
With Anton Lienert-Brown out injured and Jack Goodhue only just coming back, I’ve gone for the specialist 12 to provide solidity, power and distribution from 12. In a position relatively thin on stock, Tupaea has been powerful for the Chiefs.
13. Rieko Ioane
If everyone was fit and available, Ioane would start at 11. They’re not, so he makes his way to the starting 13 shirt, where he’s been powerful and fast for the Blues. He is not a natural centre, but give him time and he’ll bring some real X-factor to the All Blacks’ centre pairing.
14. Will Jordan
He is fast, slick, smart, elusive, and everything you want from an outside back. This was a toss-up for the 15 jersey, with Jordie Barrett dropping to the bench in a super sub role, but I just had to have both players on the field to start.
15. Jordie Barrett
He is the custodian. With a massive boot, dependable goal kicking, height to defuse bombs, and a solid 2021 season under his belt, Barrett is the man to inject power into the back line while also providing safety at the back.
16. Codie Taylor
Solid and dependable, Taylor provides a point of difference to Taukei’aho. His experience, consistency and reliability will help finish the game from the bench. Dane Coles is a close second.
17. George Bower
Covering both sides of the scrum, Bower has come of age this season and deserves a bench spot (at least).
18. Nepo Laulala
He is another strong and powerful front rower, who can also provide go forward and handle the tough stuff at tighthead.
19. Owen Franks
In an inspirational return against the Waratahs, and with Karl Tu’inukuafe heading offshore, Franks comes into my squad on the bench. His knowledge, strength and experience will provide added steel up front.
20. Scott Barrett
This was a tough one. I originally had Sam Cane on my bench, but with three potential sevens in the starting 15, having a back-up lock on the bench is key. Discipline will be crucial if he is to provide the impact required from the bench.
21. Brad Weber
With Finlay Christie and Folau Fakatava snapping at his heels, Weber gets the bench role based on his 2021 international form, where he was my number two at nine.
22. Richie Mo’unga
As defences start to tire, hot-stepping Mo’unga comes on to ignite the attack. His ability to guide the team around the park, plus place-kicking expertise, provides options as a replacement for either Barrett at ten or Barrett at 15.
23. Leicester Fainga’anuku
A powerful player who can play on the wing or in the midfield, Fainga’anuku has been excellent for the Crusaders and comes straight into my squad.
So what do you think Roarers? What changes would you like to see? Who is your starting 15 and bench?