Six potential Test debutants for the All Blacks in 2024
The All Blacks will have the first regime change since 2004 when John Mitchell handed over the team to Graham Henry.
After succession planning ensured Henry’s regime was handed down from Steve Hansen to Ian Foster over 20 years, the 2024 season will be the first with new head coach Scott Robertson in charge and there is bound to be a host of new caps as a result.
History suggests that the year after a Rugby World Cup produces a high number of new Test players, so the likelihood of more new players is twofold.
With a number of legendary All Blacks moving on, there are a number of positions that could see new players picked.
Cortez Ratima (Chiefs/halfback)
The 22-year-old has burst onto the scene with excitment since his Super Rugby Pacific debut in 2022. He possesses a crisp pass that is one of the most accurate in Super Rugby, running at 99.3 per cent in 2023. He possesses a dangerous running game with the ability to sniff a break with impressive footwork.
As a back-up to Brad Weber last year, Ratima found most of his game time off the bench. With Weber joining Stade Francais, he will be able to compete with Xavier Roe for starting time this season. If he wins that battle, Ratima is capable of pushing for an All Blacks debut with a stellar season in the No 9 jersey.
With Aaron Smith departing there is open competition for the All Black job and Robertson is likely to go for a halfback that can tick off the fundamentals first. If Ratima is the most accurate halfback in New Zealand, there is no reason why he can’t surpass Finlay Christie or Cam Roigard in the pecking order.
Folau Fakatava and TJ Perenara are both running 9s also, so the No 9 that brings the best service from the base may find themselves Robertson’s first choice.
Quinten Strange (Crusaders/lock)
Strange is one of possibly two uncapped locks in New Zealand that possess the necessary size for Test rugby (the other is Pari Pari Parkinson).
The 27-year-old is 2.00m tall and is pushing 120kg like his club teammate Scott Barrett. Injuries have hampered Strange but now that Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick have moved on, the All Blacks will need new locks.
If Strange starts alongside Barrett at the Crusaders and performs well, that combination can become the next All Blacks’ second row partnership. Having worked under forwards coach Jason Ryan and head coach Scott Robertson, Strange has the advantage of familiarity.
Fergus Burke (Crusaders/first five)
Burke is a first five-eighth who filled in at fullback last season with impressive results with the Crusaders. The 6 ft 1 playmaker stood out last season in their Super Rugby Pacific title run.
On the end of the backline filling in for the injured Will Jordan, Burke became a secondary playmaker to Mo’unga and often produced the big plays.
Against the Blues at Eden Park he bagged a try with a sliding run and found an assist for Fainga’anuku with a cutout ball in the 34-28 win.
With Mo’unga moving to Japan, 24-year-old Burke will be starting at No 10 for the Crusaders and will have the chance to push into consideration with the All Blacks.
His season last year in the No 15 jersey adds versatility to his bow and the All Blacks are in need of 10-15 options after the loss of Mo’unga and potentially Beauden Barrett.
As it stands, Damian McKenzie is the only remaining first five option from the Rugby World Cup squad contracted in New Zealand. That means two more 10s could find their way into the All Blacks.
Sam Darry (Blues/lock)
Darry is not yet a guaranteed starter at Super Rugby level so his selection here if from left field. But his 6 ft 8, 110kg frame is very similar to that of Josh Lord who Foster’s coaching group capped very early with an eye to the long term.
Darry is a Canterbury product that is well known to Robertson & Ryan despite playing 23 times for the Blues. If they are looking for long-term projects, instead of a Test-ready prospect like Strange, then the 23-year-old fits the bill.
He would need to be starting for the Blues and performing at a high level, but the All Blacks will often pick development prospects deemed to have a high ceiling.
With Whitelock & Retallick departing, they need to restock the lock position with talent and depth.
Zarn Sullivan (Blues/fullback)
His height (6 ft 4) is a natural advantage under the high ball, and he has the X-factor to produce big plays from the back. As a former schoolboy first five, he has the kicking game to manage a backfield at Test level.
With Barrett in Japan, Sullivan is in line to play at No 15 for the Blues next year and get significant game time under his belt. And unless Barrett’s new deal is confirmed, the All Blacks will need a new fullback too.
Will Jordan is still not established as a fullback for the All Blacks in part because his kicking game is not up to scratch. He kicks out on the full too much and at Test level that is costly.
It will be Sullivan’s application to the task at hand and managing risk that determines whether he can push for higher honours, but he possesses all the talent & skill required to get there.
Levi Aumua (Crusaders/midfielder)
The most damaging runner in Super Rugby has moved to the Crusaders in part to push for higher honours with the All Blacks.
At Moana Pasifika this year he finished third in defenders beaten with 71 and top 10 in clean breaks. It is expected that in the Crusaders system he will have more impact and develop his game further.
He has played for the All Blacks XV a couple of times which suggests he is on the cusp of Test selection. While Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane seem to have established themselves as the first choice option in the midfield, Aumua is the power option that has been missing.
Sonny Bill Williams almost always started for the All Blacks against the Springboks after Ma’a Nonu’s departure. Williams brought size and power that was needed against the Boks.
Aumua is the kind of player who could bring strong ball carrying to the All Blacks back line when they play the power teams.