The Roar
The Roar


Tall wings, short locks and the Love Boat: Picking an All Blacks squad to take down England... and then the world

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Roar Rookie
23rd May, 2024
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New coach, new World Cup cycle, new players. With plenty of scope for change and three months of Super Rugby behind us, possibilities abound for amateur All Blacks selectors.

My team has one eye on the future, but also one on continuity and the particular strengths and weaknesses of England. It’s pretty experienced but very few players are likely to be too old in 2027. It’s a squad that could peak nicely at the next World Cup.

Front row

  • 1. Ethan de Groot
  • 2. Codie Taylor
  • 3. Tyrel Lomax
  • 16. Samisoni Taukei’aho
  • 17. Xavier Numia
  • 18. Fletcher Newell

Until Asafo Aumua’s injury and Taylor’s impressive return, I was tempted to start an all-Hurricanes front row for cohesion and to ease the brilliant breakout star Numia’s introduction to Test rugby. England won’t be coming with great props which will make it easier to start a debutant.

Instead, I’ve gone with the stability of last year’s successful front row, with three dynamic replacements. All three of the starters are clearly the top-rated in their positions, although Taylor is already 33.

Of the others, Taukei’aho is breaking tackles again, while Newell did a real number on test stalwart James Slipper against the Brumbies. He has huge potential. Ofa Tuʻungafasi has less long-term upside and both he and Tamaiti Williams have been playing on the left side of the scrum. Young Williams is probably next in line for both positions though.



  • 4. Scott Barrett
  • 5. Tupou Vaa’i
  • 19. Patrick Tuipulotu

The retirement of two centurion legends has left giant holes over two metres tall in the All Blacks second row. Scott Barrett is a world-class performer but at “just” 1.97m he could do with a bigger mate or two to back him up.

Unfortunately, all of the genuine cherry pickers are either injured, not ready yet or never will be. So I’ve just gone for the best of the bunch, who are both 1.98m tall.

Tupou Vaa’i has 18 caps and at 24 the former Wesley College head boy has started to use his frame well. Big Pat meanwhile has matured into a fine leader who makes a huge contribution for the born-again Blues and never let Ian Foster down. I felt though that he struggled to impose himself in black for the full 80, hence his bench role.

If anyone thinks I’ve missed someone in this position then please say. Sam Darry perhaps? Josh Lord needs to put together a run of games.

Jamie Hannah is just 1.96m, the same height as Samipeni Finau and Jerome Kaino – he could well have to move to blindside.


Loose forwards

  • 6. Samipeni Finau
  • 7. Dalton Papalii
  • 8. Ardie Savea (c)
  • 20. Ethan Blackadder
  • Apprentice. Peter Lakai

The first player to be picked is the best in the world: Ardie Savea. His superpower is dynamic ball carrying which means he has to play off the back of the scrum, where he has the greatest opportunity to do just that.

Ardie Savea of New Zealand celebrates victory at full-time following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Quarter Final match between Ireland and New Zealand at Stade de France on October 14, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Justin Setterfield - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Ardie Savea. (Photo by Justin Setterfield – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Savea is also my skipper. He plays the full 80 and has done an inspirational job as captain at Test level, not least in trying circumstances on the very highest stage. He’s also immensely popular with young Kiwis, very well respected internationally and has never, as far as I know, received a red card. Scott Barrett will provide vital senior support.

Anyone who watched the All Blacks play in the Foster era will know that when you have a ball-in-hand exponent like Ardie in the loosies, you need two off-the-ball mongrel workhorses to complement him. Selecting a ball player like Hoskins Sotutu or Akira Ioane didn’t tend to work well.

When thinking of a suitable openside, Blackadder has the work rate and physicality clearing rucks but I’m going to go for Dalton Papalii. He has always stepped up when deputising for Sam Cane – remember 2021 and the November 2022 tour – and has fewer injuries. You also want a specialist No.7 to lead the defensive line and he’s done an excellent job in that regard for Vern Cotter’s Blues. Who knows, at six foot four he could also be a lineout option depending on whether they want Finau to be a lifter or a liftee.


The final piece of the jigsaw is New Zealand’s long-awaited replacement for Jerome Kaino. Finau is tough, six foot five and hits hard, which is sorely needed in that trio.

Looking at the makeup of the bench, Savea and Barrett usually go the full 80 and Papalii has a pretty good record in that regard when starting. So the only way the unlucky Sotutu gets on the bench is as a blindside, despite his new willingness to do the hard yakka. That could happen later in the season if Razor goes with a six-forward bench to give his forwards a fair chance against the likes of South Africa. I still have nightmares over the last eight minutes at Twickenham though, after Papalii went off, Hoskins came on and Ardie went to openside.

Blackadder covers all three positions and is a good, tough, hard-working, hard-hitting loosie. Sam Cane could be a good old head in the squad and would be ideal to ease the workload of Papalii, especially in a 6/2 bench. The hugely promising Lakai might benefit from time with him at some stage this year and could even make the bench if Blackadder and Cane aren’t ready after their injuries.


  • 9. TJ Perenara
  • 21. Cortez Ratima

For twelve years, Aaron Smith squashed all debate on the No.9 jersey but his retirement and his heir apparent’s sad injury has left a big gap. TJP doesn’t have a great pass but he’s the form halfback and has all the experience.

TJ Penerana performs The Haka

TJ Perenara (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Ratima is a starting option but he sometimes dithers at the breakdown. Perenara punished him this year and it could prove fatal at Test level. Remember what the All Blacks did to Jack van Poortvliet at Twickenham in 2022? Still, he is otherwise sharp and has a great relationship with Damian McKenzie.

The other options also have scruffy areas to their game. Although Razor might favour Finlay Christie’s experience, I don’t – remember how he and DMac bombed against Australia last year?

First five/fullback

  • 10. Damian McKenzie
  • 15. Ruben Love
  • 22. Beauden Barrett

Love, exciting and new…

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Everyone’s aboard the Love Boat this autumn. People have been comparing the Wellington excitement machine to Christian Cullen and no higher praise exists for a Hurricanes fullback. Whether he’s making another run through and around the defence or letting it flow with his passing and kicking skills he’s played a huge role in revolutionising his team’s attack.

The thought of him causing havoc with Damian McKenzie has a lot of appeal. They could well become international rugby’s star combination throughout this World Cup cycle. Unless Richie Mo’unga…

DMac has been showing an incredible range of passing, running and kicking threats. He’s controlling play well and is ready to step up as the only realistic candidate to run the cutter.

McKenzie likes another playmaker at No.15 and in the past has enjoyed having the Barretts in support at second five and fullback. In the absence of any other Test-level fly-halves and with Love now a specialist fullback, Beauden will cover DMac whether he starts at the back or on the bench. The big question is will Razor take the safe option to start with the experience of a player who will be 36 in 2027? Or will he set a course for adventure with Love?

England are a risky opponent for a debutant fullback because they have an incredible high kick/chase game. I’d mimic that in training before selecting my back three. The All Blacks including Beaudy had a bad World Cup final in that department, something rarely mentioned in post-game analyses.

Actually, about the only player to take a contested kick that day was Jordie Barrett when he anticipated well and got back. With Quinn Tupaea and Anton Lienert-Brown playing so well, a left-field selection would have Jordie at fullback and four Chiefs at 9, 10, 12 and 13.



  • 12. Jordie Barrett
  • 13. Rieko Ioane
  • 23. Anton Lienert-Brown

Baby Barrett has matured from the days when he recklessly threw an intercept to Willie le Roux, which was also a lifeline for Rassie Erasmus. Did that change history?

He became the rock-solid Mr Fixit for Ian Foster, first as a safe as houses fullback after George Bridge’s Test career was cut short by a Springbok aerial bombardment. Then as a hard-running, ball-playing midfielder when David Havili and Tupaea were injured against Australia. Stronger and bigger than ALB and a better distributor than Tupaea, he seems a lock at second five.

Jordie Barrett and David Havili of the All Blacks

(Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

With ALB in top form and such a level-headed exponent of the decision-making 13 role, he deserves consideration for the starting fifteen. Rieko has historically struggled with some of the finer points of the position but in partnership with Jordie he’s improved and his strength and athleticism can be a real weapon. ALB’s ability to calmly slot in at both 12 and 13 has made him a regular replacement and with Jordie’s fullback and Rieko’s wing experience, the All Blacks have the flexibility for that 6/2 bench. Unfortunately, Billy Proctor hasn’t played much at second five.

Of course, there’s a real possibility that Razor will find a place for David Havili who has played such a key role in the Crusaders’ attack.



  • 11. Caleb Clarke
  • 14. Mark Telea

When you’ve already selected the diminutive McKenzie and your opponent has the high-ball ability of England, you need taller players in your back three. Allowing such a focussed opponent to continually succeed using their favourite tactic could be catastrophic – remember Kyle Sinckler being repeatedly worked over by Ox Nche in the England-Springboks semi-final last year?

That’s bad news for Sevu Reece who has been in dynamic form, scoring 50 per cent more tries so far this year than his closest competitors Telea and Emoni Narawa. He could well be in contention against less kick-happy foe later in the season though.

With Air Jordan temporarily grounded, I’d allow Clarke to use his rarely-mentioned aerial abilities and add balance with his powerful carries. He’s improved so much this year shedding some kilos and improving his workrate.

Talea and his spiders can move to his favoured right wing. He is good under the high ball and his ability to wriggle and power his way through a congested defence has been quite uncanny. If his form dips, Narawa is probably next in line.


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I’d like to think that I’ve put together a coherent, well-balanced team. Now it’s your turn to pull it apart, let everyone know your preferences, and assess the All Blacks’ chances in July and the next four years.