To tie a player’s eligibility to one nation, he has to represent that country in either their national team or their elected second team.
In New Zealand’s case, it’s been a number of years now since their designated second team actually played a game at all. The Junior All Blacks’ most recent fixture was played way back in 2009, in the Pacific Nations Cup, a tournament which used to include the likes of the JABS, the Maori All Blacks (never at the same time) and Australia A (Australia’s second designated team).
Since 2009, the Maori All Blacks have had numerous matches, playing at least a few games every season. For whatever reason, however, the New Zealand Rugby Union has decided that the JABs are a team no longer worth maintaining with but also have not indicated that they’d like to change their second designated team – all this resulting in no NZ players having their eligibility captured by NZ unless they’ve represented the All Blacks.
Were the team to be reassembled today, the talent on offer would be incredible – offering New Zealand a chance to give international exposure to the many players who have not quite managed to force their way into the top squad.
2018 proposed Junior All Blacks squad
Props – Michael Alaalatoa, Dan Lienert-Brown, Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax
Laulala, who performed so well for the All Blacks last year, spent most of the Super Rugby season on the sideline, but should be match fit in the near future. Lienert-Brown has made all the right moves in the last year and has a soft pair of hands for a prop – injuries to a number of other possible All Black props means he’s the next cab off the ranks. Michael Alaalatoa has been faced with the mighty task of backing up Owen Franks at the Crusaders but is progressing well and could be worth a shot in the future.
Highlander Lomax is an interesting case – he has been earmarked for big things and was swiped from Australia, but his debut season for the men from Dunedin wasn’t especially impressive. Still, he certainly has the pedigree and raw potential needed to be an international prop.
Hookers – Ricky Riccitelli, Ash Dixon
Riccitelli deputised particularly well for the Hurricanes in Coles’ absence and, whilst his lineout accuracy wasn’t always up to scratch, his open field play was everything we’ve come to expect from the new breed of hookers. Dixon is an experienced hand who would manage fine in the All Blacks jersey if called upon today. It’s assumed that Liam Coltman will be selected in the main squad.
Locks – Patrick Tuipulotu, Luke Romano, Jackson Hemopo, Thomas Franklin
The second-row selections are men who have all spent time in the All Blacks set up before, with Franklin being the only one to have not earned an international cup. Hemopo’s rise to fame has been meteoric, whereas the other three have been grafting away for a number of years. You can expect to see a number of these players suiting up for the All Blacks throughout the year when injuries inevitably strike.
Loose Forwards – Dillon Hunt, Jordan Taufua, Gareth Evans, Lachlan Boshier, Luke Jacobson, Akira Ioane
With Matt Todd’s future up in the air due to his impending season in Japan, there’s room for a third openside flanker to press their case for national honours. Evans has been playing superbly for the Hurricanes this year (though primarily at 6 or 8) and Boshier has gone from strength to strength with the Chiefs, while Hunt has already spent time in the extended All Blacks squad.
Taufua and Ioane are both power players who have been in and out of All Blacks squads in recent times but it’s Jacobson who could see a quick rise in the near future after an impressive debut season for the Chiefs.
Halfbacks – Brad Weber, Bryn Hall
Weber has been one of the form halfbacks in the competition and many would like to see him return to the All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship – though it’s likely his Chiefs backup Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will continue to hold him out of the squad. Hall has had a breakout season for the Crusaders and will be enjoying the move he made from the Blues a couple of years ago.
First Fives – Stephen Perofeta, Bryn Gatland, Tiaan Falcon
Perofeta’s designation as “the next big thing” ensures that he’d be tasked with guiding the backline around – but his ability to cover midfield and fullback means there’s space for two more specialists. Gatland may never make it to the next level, but he’s a relatively safe pair of hands in an experienced backline. Falcon showed some good touches in the few games he had for the Chiefs early in the year and was a standout for the NZ U20 team in recent years.
Centres – Matt Proctor, Rob Thompson, Richard Buckman
Proctor, described by Chris Boyd as the best defensive centre in Super Rugby, had to sit out the latter stages of 2018’s Super Rugby competition, but the Hurricane’s stats while he was on the field seem to back up Boyd’s claims. Thompson came of age in the Highlanders backline this year, showing a great range of skills (including a number of deft kicks) and could push for higher honours in the years to come. Thompson’s teammate, Richard Buckman, has trained with the All Blacks previously and could offer a reliable stop-gap option if needed. Outside of these three, there were few non-All Black midfielders that stood out this year.
Outside Backs – Matt Duffie, Ben Lam, George Bridge, David Kaetau Havili, Solomona Alaimalo, Shaun Stevenson
As always, there is no shortage of talented, young outside backs doing the rounds in Super Rugby. Assuming Nehe Milner-Skudder’s selection in the first team, Havili, Duffie or Alaimalo would likely cover the fullback position (though, truth be told, everyone barring Lam could hold the position if need be), giving space for Lam and Bridge to run riot on the wings. Alaimalo and Bridge, in particular, must be very close to making the All Blacks and will almost certainly get a run for the team in the coming years.
Due to the sheer depth at New Zealand’s disposal, a team of up and coming All Blacks would be very competitive on the world circuit. In fact, in the JAB’s short history they have yet to taste defeat. The Maori All Blacks, by comparison, have a much tougher time in their matches due to their selection requirements – notably less than a quarter of the above selected players would be eligible to represent the Maori All Blacks.
In upcoming years, we may see the return of New Zealand’s ‘second XV’ – it would be a great spectacle to see the Junior All Blacks face off against either the Maori All Blacks or the top national team in a future invitational.
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