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New blood, plenty of mongrel, unreturned texts: What we learnt from All Blacks squad announcement

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Roar Rookie
22nd June, 2023
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8261 Reads

For decades the naming of the All Blacks followed the same format.

In the deep dark caverns under the main grandstand of Athletic Park the ageing NZRFU chairman – for years Ces Blazey, of 1981 Springbok Tour fame – would stand up after the All Black trial and read out the names in alphabetical order.

Nicky Allen was one of the lucky ones – he always knew straight away whether he was in luck. The Watts and the Wilsons had to stew right until the end, trying to remember how many wings had already been named.

This year the chair once again read the team in alphabetical order, but this was no chairman. Historically, she even managed to pronounce the Maori and Pasifika names accurately, even gracefully. No Tawera Kerr-Barlow moment to laugh at this time.

No All Back hopefuls were in the audience, some having to contain their happiness to spare the feelings of their not so fortunate brothers. Others having to suck up their disappointment and appear happy for those who’d succeeded.

And the venue was not some big city monument but, to the chagrin of big city journos, a modest small town clubroom in the real New Zealand.

We always learn a little bit on these nights – or at least who was selected and the style of rugby that might be deduced from those ingredients. But usually nothing else is given away at these events or indeed at any time in World Cup year.

This time, however, it was a bit different so I took some mental notes and turned them into an article.

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Bold as brass

And that was the first revelation. This All Black team is not the usual front runner protectively holding strategies back for the final sprint. They are like Kiwis ready to come from behind in a phenomenal finish that might beat them all.

“We want to win Test matches, get the country behind us,” said Jason Ryan, a bit like Rassie Erasmus’ attitude four years ago. “We’re not locking anything away – we want to get stuck in.”

Ian Foster and Jason Ryan were even willing to talk strategy for all the world to hear.

New Zealand has never won the main Southern Hemisphere trophy and Old Bill in the same year. We all remember years of dominant mid-season silverware followed by humiliating World Cup exits. This is no ordinary situation for a team in black though – could it be the right call in these circumstances?

Time for a change

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Usually the All Blacks like to have a very settled team for the big dance, except maybe with one bolter in the outside backs. So, it could easily be considered a weakness that this unsettled and wobbly World Cup cycle has led us to a place where Foster and co have selected five new players, plus Mark Telea, who only debuted in November.

Mark Telea of New Zealand celebrates after scoring his team's fourth try of the game during the Autumn International match between Scotland and New Zealand at Murrayfield Stadium on November 13, 2022 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Mark Telea celebrates a try (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Not ideal, but as Foster said they will add energy to the prevalent experience and this does feel like the best All Black team to be selected since at least 2019, maybe 2017. Is it too little, too late, though?

Remember Rassie brought in new players during his short reign – are Foster’s new assistants responsible for these new selections, along with the change of style that was gradually introduced last year? Like Rassie they seem to have brought a welcome transformation that has surely increased our chances.

Dirty creatures

This is reflected in the good news that came from the new darling of the New Zealand rugby media. No, not Kirstie Stanaway but her polar opposite interviewee, Jason Ryan. It was clear that Mutt wanted powerful athletes with plenty of mongrel and that he fought like one to get Samipeni Finau into the team ahead of his polar opposite, Foster favourite Akira Ioane.

Or at least that is the logical deduction from Foster’s statement that “one went in and one went out” following the semi-finals. That followed Ryan’s assertions that blindside was the a position that gave rise to “robust discussions” and that Finau proved that he was “tough” and “ready” in the loss to the Reds.

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Surely this premium on fight has to be a good thing after two years when that seemingly came second in the loose forwards to flashy skill.

Strait old line

It was heartening to hear that Joe Schmidt has been teaching Ryan and the players about how to execute the ball carry and clean. Something Ryan can take forward into the Scott Robertson era.

Schmidt made Ireland the masters of those basics and they’ve been our kryptonite in recent years. In Foster’s COVID-enforced absence he coached the All Blacks to a rare win over his former charges last year and he has improved the odds of a repeat should the two teams meet in France. Our platform is also so much more solid than it was for the first four matches last year.

Give it a whirl

We are still saying that we need to play with speed and adventure. I’m fine with that if it’s based on solid Schmidt/Ryan foundations because it is our strength.

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Poor boy

Of course there were disappointments but Foster was hurt by the failure of dropped players to text him back after he gave them the courtesy of forewarning them. Proof, perhaps, that the selectors made the right call but a danger if friends or even a brother in the squad secretly agree with their stance.

Conclusion

After a mediocre few years we are at least improving. Finally, we are building a solid base to give our flair a reasonable chance to succeed.

Is this Kiwi in the 1983 Melbourne Cup or Kiwi in the 1985 edition? I don’t think I’ve ever given the All Blacks a smaller chance of winning the World Cup since the first one but at least we have a chance now.

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