Examining the 31 names that make-up the All Blacks RWC squad (Rugby World Cup) you sense that this 2019 side has been selected to maximize their ‘speed and mobility’ in a bid to win an unprecedented back-to-back-to-back World Championships.
Although that ultimate goal is over two months away, the beginning of the 2019 Rugby World Cup (RWC) is just weeks away. As other International teams all announce their 31 man squads [the World Rugby governed number] New Zealand held its naming ceremony, streamed live on Facebook, via Pay TV provider SparkSport, and very much ‘instantly reported online’.
That instant recognition was both from the familiarity of players, but also the interest levels of the rugby-mad public. News bulletins broke the news, and most news media reported it as Breaking News – something Steve Hansen acknowledged when expressing his and his fellow selector’s responsibility in naming the group.
“Yes, it will come with massive expectation and therefore pressure. We’re looking forward to tackling that pressure head-on and enjoying everything that comes with it.”
Speed and Mobility, the key to All Blacks RWC squad
“It’s the same as it always feels … there’s always been a target on our back, as All Blacks. We’ve got those expectations, every day we live that.”
– Steve Hansen on how it feels for the All Blacks to have such a target on their backs at the Rugby World Cup. pic.twitter.com/VhHfrHAy7O
— RNZ (@radionz) August 28, 2019
Steve Hansen (above, left) said in a media release, “We know it’ll be tough and that we’ll need to earn the right, every time we play, to continue throughout the Tournament. However, that’s exciting and knowing we’ve faced that pressure before gives us confidence. There are no guarantees in sport.
“However, with talent, hard work and mental fortitude, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
The list below was quickly digested and examined closely. The below names all judged on merit, by their influence and importance to the side’s chances in Japan; all chosen on form.
31-strong All Blacks RWC squad (Age, Super Rugby team, Province, Test caps):
Dane Coles (32, Hurricanes / Wellington, 64)
Liam Coltman (29, Highlanders / Otago, 5)
Codie Taylor (28, Crusaders / Canterbury, 44)
Nepo Laulala (27, Chiefs / Counties Manukau, 19)
Joe Moody (30, Crusaders /Canterbury, 40)
Atu Moli (24, Chiefs / Tasman, 2)
Angus Ta’avao (29, Chiefs / Taranaki, 7)
Ofa Tuungafasi (27, Blues / Auckland, 29)
Scott Barrett (25, Crusaders / Taranaki, 30)
Brodie Retallick (28, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 77)
Patrick Tuipulotu (26, Blues / Auckland, 24)
Samuel Whitelock (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 111)
Sam Cane (27, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 63)
Luke Jacobson (22, Chiefs / Waikato, 1)
Kieran Read (33, Crusaders / Counties Manukau, 121) – Captain
Ardie Savea (25, Hurricanes / Wellington, 38)
Matt Todd (31, Crusaders / Canterbury, 20)
TJ Perenara (27, Hurricanes / Wellington, 58)
Aaron Smith (30, Highlanders / Manawatu, 86)
Brad Weber (28, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 2)
Beauden Barrett (28, Blues / Taranaki, 77)
Richie Mo’unga (25, Crusaders / Canterbury, 12)
Ryan Crotty (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 44)
Jack Goodhue (24, Crusaders / Northland, 9)
Anton Lienert-Brown (24, Chiefs / Waikato, 37)
Sonny Bill Williams (33, Blues / Counties Manukau, 53)
Jordie Barrett (22, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 11)
George Bridge (24, Crusaders / Canterbury, 4)
Rieko Ioane (22, Blues / Auckland, 26)
Sevu Reece (22, Crusaders / Waikato, 2)
Ben Smith (33, Highlanders /Otago, 79)
The squad features 17 forwards and 14 backs with the following positional breakdown: three hookers, five props, four locks, five loose forwards, three halfbacks, two first five-eighths, four midfielders, and five outside backs.
Notable omissions and Key namings
Within the All Blacks RWC squad combinations, there are several names missing. A side effect of any selection will necessarily have those who are included, and those omitted. For the established players, they have been regular names listed but, for this 31-man group, Owen Franks has found his name omitted.
The test centurion has been a stable pin of the All Blacks successful scrum unit for nearly a decade. However, with a desire for speed and mobility in the tight forwards, Franks is a casualty of strategy. So when Owen Frank’s name was not called, Nepo Laulala was the beneficiary – so the inclusion of one new name, must naturally come at the expense of another.
Hansen remarked, “The selectors wanted to point out that it wasn’t a case of anyone not being good enough to be selected, but more the fact that we can only take 31, so there was always go to be some very talented athletes that would miss out.”
Laulala impressed against Australia, and if he can play injury-free, then the Chiefs prop will be a key name beside his teammates Angus Ta’avao and Atu Moli. Each will feel for the respected Franks’ position. And the same can be said for Ngani Laumape.
His development had seemed to secure him a role as the ultimate impact player, yet with the limitations on squad numbers, the pressure-point has seen Laumape sacrificed, in the name of squad balance. Selector Grant Fox telling NZME “five doesn’t go into four, and there was always going to be somebody unlucky. In this case, it was Ngani.”
So the decision to go with four centers, was the closest call. Choosing Sonny Bill Williams and the recovered Ryan Crotty, that saw Ngani Laumape passed over (but not by a wide margin). Although Laumape, Franks and Liam Squire are all on-call replacements to the All Blacks RWC squad; if (and possibly when) required.
Brad Weber receives key place in All Blacks RWC squad
Probably the one redemption story of this season, has been Brad Weber. Even while the two-test All Black has only been given limited time on the field, it appears that the need to have a rotation of halfbacks has proven his ‘passport’ to Japan.
The form half in Super Rugby; when considering outright pace and speed, breaking the line and in leadership value, Weber was seen as an outside chance for selection – and is now a bonafide All Blacks RWC squad member.
Hansen again was quick to congratulate the 31 players. “The All Blacks selectors would like to congratulate all those selected for Rugby World Cup 2019. It’s a special moment being named in any All Blacks squad but especially when it’s the RWC and they and their families can be incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved.”
When placed in context for the years of work that players have made to reach this stage, it is the proudest day in their careers. And who would not agree?
For the likes of Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Sevu Reece, George Bridge, Atu Loli, Nepo Laulala, Angus Ta’avao, Liam Coltman and even Jack Goodhue, this is a new experience. For the others, they have been preparing for many years to reach this goal. So today has been like winning the lottery.
For rugby fans, their jackpot may arrive on November 2, if the All Blacks make the unfathomable, realty. Back-to-back-to-back.
To get there, this All Blacks RWC squad has been selected for speed and mobility. If that is true then…..all over sides must be wary of the defending champions.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images