It comes after much being made of New Zealand’s extensive depth throughout their national pool of domestically and offshore-based players.
That much becomes glaringly evident when looking through who could have made the side, but missed out on selection through either lack of form, injury, or due to being ineligible as a result of being based overseas.
Whatever the reason for their non-inclusion, there is plenty of Kiwi talent that won’t be on show in Japan, so we present a XV showcasing the best of the rest who will be watching the World Cup from home.
1 – Karl Tu’inukuafe (Blues)
Karl Tu’inukuafe was probably the biggest name to be dropped as part of a five-man culling from Steve Hansen’s 39-man Rugby Championship squad ahead of the Bledisloe Cup series.
Tu’inukuafe’s omission has been the subject of much discussion, with Hansen’s desire for ball-playing, mobile props who can operate in the hot and humid conditions in Japan playing a key role in his World Cup selection process.
That was seen as a weak point for Tu’inukuafe, and so while his unlikely rise from being a security guard to All Blacks stardom captured the hearts of many throughout the rugby fraternity last year, he will be forced to watch the World Cup from home.
2 – Asafo Aumua (Hurricanes)
Another one who failed to survive the drop leading into the Bledisloe Cup series, leaving him without a test debut nearly two years after his international debut against the Barbarians.
Nevertheless, Asafo Aumua remains a prodigious talent at just 22-years-old.
His blockbusting ball-carrying ability is an attribute which has seen him feature on a number of highlight reels for whichever side he plays for, and the fact that he was selected ahead of Nathan Harris – who has been a favourite of the selectors over the past few years – for the Rugby Championship indicates the potential he possesses.
Expect to see him in the national set-up more frequently during the next World Cup cycle.
Notable mentions: Nathan Harris (Chiefs)
3 – Owen Franks (Crusaders/Northampton Saints)
Like Tu’inukuafe, 108-test veteran and double World Cup-winner Owen Franks was the victim of the All Blacks’ need for mobile front rowers in Japan.
Certainly the most shocking omission when the World Cup squad was named, with many predicting that his vast wealth of experience would outweigh his lack of ball-carrying prowess.
However, Hansen proved his ruthlessness as a selector by excluding Franks from his final squad, meaning that – unless injury strikes during the tournament – the 31-year-old’s illustrious test career has come to a close as he prepares to depart New Zealand to link up with Premiership club Northampton in England.
4 – Vaea Fifita (Hurricanes)
Vaea Fifita’s inclusion in New Zealand’s 34-man Bledisloe Cup side perhaps raised a few eyebrows following two underwhelming performances against Argentina and South Africa.
He remained part of the squad, however, but failed to appear in either match against the Wallabies in Perth and Auckland.
Following the test at Eden Park, he was released to play for Wellington in the Mitre 10 Cup, but a knee injury ruled him out from taking to the field against Canterbury, and he hasn’t featured since then.
Would have still been unlikely to have made the initial squad, but may have been picked as Luke Jacobson’s injury replacement instead of Shannon Frizell had he been uninjured himself.
5 – Jackson Hemopo (Highlanders/Mitsubishi DynaBoars)
The dynamic utility forward was impressive for the Highlanders throughout Super Rugby, but was granted limited opportunities in the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup to prove his worth for World Cup selection.
Given only about half an hour from the bench across two matches against the Pumas and Wallabies, Jackson Hemopo didn’t show enough to the selectors to warrant inclusion on the plane to Japan, despite his valuable versatility as either a lock or blindside flanker.
Set to join the Mitsubishi DynaBoars in the Japanese Top League next year, the 25-year-old’s omission spells the end of his brief test career, although he certainly has enough years ahead of him to make an international comeback.
Notable mentions: Dominic Bird (Racing 92)
6 – Liam Squire (Highlanders/NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes)
Considering how many question marks there have been this year as to who should start at No. 6 for the All Blacks, it’s interesting to see a number of quality Kiwi blindside flankers who won’t be partaking at the World Cup.
It illustrates both the impressive depth evident in New Zealand rugby, but also the threat that offshore clubs in Europe and Japan pose for those with varying degrees of experience at test level.
Headlining the list of blindsides who won’t be playing in Japan – for now, at least – is Liam Squire, whose decision to sideline himself as he prioritises his mental health over his playing career has resulted in him turning out in barnstorming fashion for Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup.
However, as Jacobson’s withdrawal from the national squad has proven, injury could strike at any time, meaning Squire could still yet have a part to play over the next seven weeks.
7 – Dalton Papalii (Blues)
Dalton Papalii was another one of the five players dropped prior to the Wallabies tests, joining Tu’inukuafe and Aumua on the scrapheap.
It was a tough blow for the 21-year-old, who was handed only three minutes off the pine against the Springboks in just his third test match to prove his worth.
He’s still young enough to feature prominently over the next decade, though, and the value he provides in being able to play both blindside and openside won’t go amiss in the next World Cup cycle.
Notable mentions: Dillon Hunt (Highlanders), Gareth Evans (Hurricanes)
8 – Victor Vito (La Rochelle)
The first overseas-based player to make this side, the presence of Victor Vito in this current All Blacks side would be immense.
Since leaving New Zealand in 2016, the 32-year-old has shone for La Rochelle in France, to the point where he was named Top 14 Player of the Year in 2017, and was nominated for European Player of the Year in 2018.
Would have been a more than able replacement for Jacobson if he was still plying his trade for the Hurricanes and Wellington, but the 33-test double World Cup-winner will instead watch on from the French west coast.
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9 – Tawera Kerr-Barlow (La Rochelle)
However, after being part of the champion side of 2015 and struggling to budge Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara as New Zealand’s incumbent halfback, the lure of the Euro proved to be too good to turn down for the 27-test star.
Subsequently, he will join Vito in watching the World Cup from the west of France as he round out an all-La Rochelle 8-9 partnership.
10 – Dan Carter (Kobelco Steelers)
Two World Cup titles, 112 tests across 13 seasons, the most prolific scorer in test match history with 1598 points to his name, and generally considered the best first-five ever to grace the game.
Those are just some of the accolades that the great Dan Carter – who is now in the twilight of his career and winning Top League championships with the Kobelco Steelers in Japan – can boast.
Following the season-ending injury to Damian McKenzie in April, there were whispers that the 37-year-old could make an outrageous return to the All Blacks as an emergency replacement for this World Cup, but those wild suggestions were quickly shot down after it was revealed that it was likely only two playmakers would travel to the tournament, which is what has ensued.
That, combined with a mid-year neck surgery, lack of competitive game time and New Zealand’s overseas selection policy, counted against Carter’s favour, but the legacy he holds within New Zealand rugby warrants selection in this fictitious XV.
11 – Julian Savea (Toulon)
The man known as ‘The Bus’ was a star at the 2015 World Cup, with his hat-trick performance against France in the quarter-final arguably his best-ever showing in an All Blacks jersey.
Things started to go downhill since then for Julian Savea, though, as a gradual slide in form saw him firstly dropped from the Hurricanes, and then from the All Blacks following the British and Irish Lions tour in 2017.
So, when Toulon came calling with a big pay cheque at the end of the year, the 54-test veteran – who scored a whopping 46 tries in that timeframe – answered as he was granted an early release from his big-money four-year deal with New Zealand Rugby.
Savea has since been located in the south of France, where he has’t exactly set the world alight, but despite an outburst from Toulon’s controversial owner Mourad Boudjellal targeted at his star Kiwi recruit in February, he is primed for another Top 14 campaign at the Stade Mayol.
Notable mentions: N/A
12 – Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes)
The unlucky member of a five-man midfield group competing amongst each other for four spots in the World Cup squad.
Many believed that the outstanding form of Ngani Laumape over the past two years was enough to seal selection ahead of Ryan Crotty, who hadn’t featured for the All Blacks at all in 2019 at the time of the squad announcement as a result of a hand injury sustained during the Crusaders’ 30-26 Super Rugby semi-final victory over the Hurricanes.
As it transpired, however, the experience, versatility and leadership that Crotty wields was enough to edge out Laumape, but given both Crotty’s and Sonny Bill Williams’ injury track record, don’t be surprised to see Laumape win a re-call over the coming weeks.
13 – Malakai Fekitoa (Wasps)
A fan favourite among the Highlanders faithful after bursting onto the national radar with a sparkling debut Super Rugby season in 2014, Malakai Fekitoa went on to win 24 tests caps and a World Cup winners’ medal in 2015.
Like Savea, however, the 27-year-old took a hefty contract offer from Toulon after falling out of favour with the national selectors ahead of Lions series two years ago, with the welfare of his family’s future playing a big part in his decision to move to Europe.
Fekitoa will continue to rake in large sums of money following his high-profile transfer to Premiership club Wasps, who will reap the rewards provided by the Tongan-born star that the All Blacks are currently missing out on.
Notable mentions: Matt Proctor (Hurricanes/Northampton Saints), Richard Kahui (Toshiba Brave Lupus)
14 – Waisake Naholo (Highlanders/London Irish)
Injury throughout Super Rugby severely curtailed Waisake Naholo’s chances of earning selection into the All Blacks this year, and as a result, he won’t be attending a second World Cup after his miraculous recovery to attend England 2015.
It’s a disappointing end to his time in New Zealand, given his explosive speed and power that made him a genuine force to be reckoned with for the All Blacks, Highlanders and Taranaki.
Naholo will be taking his talents to the Premiership in England in a matter of weeks, where he’ll link up with London Irish and be expected to entertain crowds at Madejski Stadium as he did en route to becoming the Highlanders’ all-time leading try-scorer at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
15 – Charles Piutau (Bristol Bears)
The fact that Charles Piutau probably won’t appear at a World Cup is a travesty given the exponential amounts of talent he has.
That talent was enough to earn him 17 tests over a three-year span, but after inking a deal with Ulster in April 2015, his spot in the World Cup squad was effectively taken by Naholo, despite having broken his leg on his All Blacks debut.
While the All Blacks went on to become the first side to claim back-to-back World Cup crowns, Piutau’s stature as one of the world’s best players continued to grow as he was named Pro12 Players’ Player of the Year in 2017, a year after being nominated for Premiership Player of the Season during his stint with Wasps.
Now the world’s highest-paid player with Bristol, Piutau still has aspirations to play internationally for Tonga, but with World Rugby’s eligibility laws preventing him from being able to do that for the time being, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see him feature at rugby’s biggest event.
Notable mentions: Damian McKenzie (Chiefs), David Havili (Crusaders)
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