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Certainties, probables, possibles and wild cards: Who will Ian Foster name in the first All Blacks squad of the year?

By Tom Vinicombe

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Ian Foster will name his first All Blacks squad of the year on Monday evening, having watched New Zealand’s finest go hammer and tongs for the past seventeen weeks.

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With just six tests played last year due to the impacts of the global pandemic, 2021 presents itself as an opportunity for Foster to really start afresh and begin the rebuild following a third-place finish at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

36 men are set to be included in Monday’s squad – but a late string of injuries to Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Anton Lienert-Brown have complicated things while a number of men are nearing a return from injury but might be lacking match fitness. As such, don’t be surprised if Foster does decide to increase that number up a little bit and bring in a few extra men to cover some of the temporarily walking wounded.

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RugbyPass brings you the schoolboy highlights of All Blacks sensation Caleb Clarke.
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RugbyPass brings you the schoolboy highlights of All Blacks sensation Caleb Clarke.

Which of New Zealand’s players are guaranteed selection, who will be close to the squad but perhaps not be feeling certain of their selection, and who could be an outside chance of representing the All Blacks in their upcoming series with Tonga and Fiji?

Hookers
Guaranteed: Codie Taylor, Dane Coles
Probable: Asafo Aumua
Possible: Samisoni Taukei’aho

Foster will likely stick with the same trio that was used in 2020 but expect Hurricanes tyro Asafo Aumua to clock up considerably more miles this year as the All Blacks look to transition to a future without Dane Coles.

Chiefs rake Samisoni Taukei’aho is one of the most dynamic ball carriers in New Zealand but will likely still be considered too much of a liability at lineout time.

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Props
Guaranteed: Nepo Laulala, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Tyrel Lomax
Probable: Angus Ta’avao, George Bower
Possible: Joe Moody, Alex Hodgman, Aidan Ross, Ethan de Groot

Here’s where things get interesting. Joe Moody and Ofa Tuungafasi, last year’s first-choice pairing, are likely to both be unavailable for the majority of the series which might cause a few headaches for Foster and co. Neither Karl Tu’inukuafe nor Tyrel Lomax are complete packages but will likely retain their spots thanks to an absence of options while Angus Ta’avao could earn a re-call, given there aren’t any tighthead props banging down the selection door right now.

George Bower is all but a certainty to take over from Moody in much the same way as he has done for the Crusaders this year while it’s a toss between Alex Hodgman, Aidan Ross and Ethan de Groot for the final loosehead spot. Ross has been the most consistent throughout the season while Hodgman earned his All Blacks debut last year but hasn’t necessarily kicked on this season. 22-year-old de Groot probably has the highest ceiling but was monstered by Nepo Laulala in the Trans-Tasman final.

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Locks
Guaranteed: Samuel Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Brodie Retallick
Probable: Tupou Vaa’i
Possible: Mitchell Dunshea

The All Blacks have four experienced second-rowers that will likely all be called upon to clock up some minutes in July and it’s likely they’ll opt for a fifth – simply because it would be impossible to leave out last year’s big mover, Tupou Vaa’i, after a storming second season with the Chiefs.

Mitchell Dunshea is the next cab off the ranks, cementing himself ahead of Quinten Strange at the Crusaders, while Pari Pari Parkinson will turn out for the Maori All Blacks after making his return from injury for the Highlanders this year. Sam Darry at the Blues could be one for the future.

Loose forwards
Guaranteed: Dalton Papalii, Hoskins Sotutu
Probable: Ardie Savea, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Luke Jacobson
Possible: Du’Plessis Kirifi, Tom Robinson, Ethan Blackadder, Cullen Grace

Like the front row, injuries in the loose forwards could force Foster to make a few changes for July. Captain Sam Cane will certainly be absent while Shannon Frizell is nearing a return to fitness – but won’t have any opportunities to play before the upcoming tests. Ardie Savea, meanwhile, limped off against the Reds last weekend but is a sure thing if fit.

Dalton Papalii and Hoskins Sotutu have been superb for the Blues this year and should both get some good opportunities for the All Blacks this season while Akira Ioane’s absence from the Maori squad seemingly assures his place in the national team.

After missing out in 2020 thanks to another injury-affected season, Luke Jacobson has stormed back into action this year and will likely go to war with Sotutu for the No 8 jersey.

If the All Blacks want a third openside flanker or need a replacement for Savea, Du’Plessis Kirifi will likely get the nod while the trio of Tom Robinson, Ethan Blackadder and Cullen Grace are vying for one spot in the squad. Robinson has versatility, Blackadder has form and Grace is the incumbent.

Halfbacks
Guaranteed: Aaron Smith, Brad Weber
Probable: N/A
Possible: TJ Perenara, Finlay Christie, Mitchell Drummond, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi

Fairly straightforward here. Aaron Smith and Brad Weber are the incumbents and TJ Perenara isn’t eligible for selection – but dispensation could be granted at the last moment.

Assuming Perenara isn’t a goer, then Finlay Christie is the next cab off the ranks and pipped Mitchell Drummond for the bench spot in the South team in last year’s North v South clash. Drummond, however, has represented the All Blacks once before.

Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi hasn’t had a great year, playing negligible minutes for the Chiefs, but maybe the selectors still want to persist with the 26-year-old? Was he overlooked by Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan for the Maori All Blacks altogether, in favour of Bryn Hall and Sam Nock, or has he been called into the All Blacks?

First fives
Guaranteed: Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett
Probable: N/A
Possible: N/A

Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett will fight for the starting flyhalf berth over the coming months and with Damian McKenzie also a certainty to make the squad, there’s no need for a third No 10 option – especially given Otere Black is heading offshore and none of the other candidates have set the world alight.

Centres
Guaranteed: Rieko Ioane
Probable: Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili
Possible: Braydon Ennor, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Quinn Tupaea, Ngani Laumape

Anton Lienert-Brown will be unavailable for at least some of the July series but Foster and his fellow selectors may keep the Chiefs talisman in the squad regardless. Rieko Ioane has continued to play in the midfield for the Blues and is the only real certainty for selection while David Havili is nursing a small injury but will likely get the call-up if fit.

Ngani Laumape is heading offshore – right when a spot at No 12 beckons for the departing Hurricane thanks to the absences of Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue.

Braydon Ennor has made limited appearances for the Crusaders since returning from injury but will likely be persevered with while Peter Umaga-Jensen earned a solitary cap last year but has been used primarily off the bench for the Hurricanes. Quinn Tupaea isn’t up to international standard yet but with so many options injured or undercooked, maybe he’s the man for the job?

Outside backs
Guaranteed: Jordie Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Will Jordan, Sevu Reece
Probable: Leicester Fainga’anuku
Possible: George Bridge, Salesi Rayasi, Jona Nareki
Wild card: Zarn Sullivan

With Caleb Clarke likely to return next year (or possibly later in the season), the All Blacks won’t go too ham with their outside back selections.

Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan and Damian McKenzie can all play fullback (as can Beauden Barrett and David Havili), but the former two might also find themselves clocking up some minutes on the wings. Leicester Fainga’anuku but be close to a certainty thanks to his solid performance on the wing and in the midfield for the Crusaders.

George Bridge is nearing full fitness which could see him slot straight back onto the left wing in Clarke’s absences. Otherwise, it’s likely that one of Jona Nareki or Salesi Rayasi will get the call-up – but Foster may not deem the young wings ready for the international stage just yet.

What about Blues fullback Zarn Sullivan? The 20-year-old somewhat surprisingly wasn’t named in the Maori All Blacks squad for their upcoming series with Samoa. Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett were all 21 when they earned their first caps for New Zealand so it wouldn’t be completely out of the question for Sullivan to follow a similar trajectory.

Likely 36-man All Blacks squad

Hookers: Codie Taylor, Dane Coles, Asafo Aumua
Props: Karl Tu’inukuafe, George Bower, Aidan Ross, Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax, Angus Ta’avao
Locks: Samuel Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa’i
Loose forwards: Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Hoskins Sotutu, Luke Jacobson, Ethan Blackadder, Ardie Savea/Du’Plessis Kirifi, Shannon Frizell/Tom Robinson,
Halfbacks: Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, TJ Perenara/Finlay Christie
First fives: Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett
Midfield: Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Anton Lienert-Brown/Peter Umaga-Jensen
Outside backs: Jordie Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Leicester Fainga’anuku, George Bridge, Jona Nareki

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Certainties, probables, possibles and wild cards: Who will Ian Foster name in the first All Blacks squad of the year?

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