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The Best of the Rest: The contenders to play for the first-ever All Blacks XV

By Alex McLeod

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New Zealand Rugby’s announcement of the All Blacks XV on Monday brought with it plenty of intrigue nationwide.


Some punters were excited, others were sceptical, but it’s hard to deny the benefit that re-instating a second-tier national side will bring to both NZR and the All Blacks.

But who exactly is in line to make the All Blacks XV when they embark on their first Northern Hemisphere tour at the end of the year?

Continue reading below…

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Their first clash against Fiji in Canada is still seven months away, and there is a multitude of rugby to be played in Super Rugby, the Mitre 10 Cup and internationally between now and then.

Based on how things stand for the time being following the opening six rounds of Super Rugby, though, here is a potential starting team that the All Blacks XV could field in North America.



1) Karl Tu’inukuafe

(Photo by Daniel Jayo/Getty Images)

Age: 27
Test caps: 13
Super Rugby: Blues
Province: North Harbour

After finding himself on the outer of the All Blacks’ World Cup squad last year, Karl Tu’inukuafe has started this season seemingly on the back foot in terms of national selection.

The likes of Joe Moody, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Atu Moli found themselves ahead of the 27-year-old in the pecking order when the side was announced last August.

Tu’inukuafe has formed a key part of an impressive Blues side this season, but has he done enough to regain national honours at this point in time?

Moody is now New Zealand’s most experienced prop with Tu’ungafasi not far behind him, while the versatility that both he and Moli offer of being able to play on either side of the scrum is something that Tu’inukuafe cannot emulate.

Then take into account the form that has made Aidan Ross the only Chiefs player to have played every match this year, and it becomes apparent that the Blues star has a challenge on his hands.

A three-match stint for the All Blacks XV could help pave the way for a full national re-call, though, and he, among others, would stand as a prime candidate for a leadership role as well as a starting position in the side come the end of the year.

Other potential candidates: Aidan Ross, Ayden Johnstone

2) Liam Coltman

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Age: 30
Test caps: 8
Super Rugby: Highlanders
Province: Otago

Despite having gone to last year’s World Cup as New Zealand’s third-choice hooker, Liam Coltman’s standing within the All Blacks’ set-up is by no means secure.

Having been in and out of the national squad since his international debut at the end of 2016, the eight-test rake has struggled for form with the Highlanders this season.

His lineout throwing has been a key concern for the embattled franchise, whose set piece has looked wobbly since the beginning of their Super Rugby campaign.

Consequently, there appears to be growing daylight between him and incumbent All Blacks hookers Codie Taylor and Dane Coles, while uncapped duo Asafo Aumua and Samisoni Tauke’iaho are starting to knock on the door of national selectors through their showings with the Hurricanes and Chiefs.

Similarly to Tu’inukuafe, a tour with the All Blacks XV could help provide Coltman with the inspiration to re-establish his credentials and apply pressure on his rivals for a place in the main national squad.

Other potential candidates: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Nathan Harris, Ricky Riccitelli, Andrew Makalio

3) Angus Ta’avao

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Age: 29
Test caps: 14
Super Rugby: Chiefs
Province: Auckland

Angus Ta’avao capped off one of the great resurgences of modern-day rugby when he was named in the All Blacks’ World Cup squad, little over a year after he was left with no Super Rugby contract following moderate spells with the Blues and Waratahs.

This season hasn’t started off so promisingly for the 29-year-old, though, as he tore a quadricep in the Chiefs’ campaign-opening win over the Blues at Eden Park in January.

Ta’avao hasn’t been sighted in a Chiefs jersey since then, and isn’t expected to be back in action until some point between late April and late May.

That could be too late to push for All Blacks selection in July, especially given the likely inclusions of Nepo Laulala, Tu’ungafasi and Moli.

To count out Ta’avao from All Blacks contention this early in the season may seem harsh, and he could well play his way back into form by season’s end, but he’ll have little time to do so, which should open an avenue for a place in the All Blacks XV.

Other potential candidates: Tyrel Lomax, Alex Fidow

4) Pari Pari Parkinson

(Photo by Teaukura Moetaua/Getty Images)

Age: 23
Test caps: uncapped
Super Rugby: Highlanders
Province: Tasman

Unlike the aforementioned names in this side, Pari Pari Parkinson is the first player without any test caps and makes this team on the basis of his potential in the international game.

With dimensions of 2.04m and 119kg, the 23-year-old second rower is a behemoth and has a physical frame that would be warmly welcomed by not just the All Blacks, but almost every team in test rugby.

There is still plenty of room for development in his game, but a niggling ankle injury has restricted him from moulding into a test match prospect thus far this season.

While there is an opening for a new lock in the All Blacks set-up thanks to Brodie Retallick’s departure to Japan, the eye-catching displays of Hurricanes youngster Isaia Walker-Leawere hasn’t aided Parkinson’s bid for a national call-up either, so he may have to bide his time with the All Blacks XV.

Other potential candidates: Luke Romano, Josh Dickson

5) Quinten Strange

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Age: 23
Test caps: uncapped
Super Rugby: Crusaders
Province: Tasman

It’s a similar predicament for Parkinson’s provincial teammate Quinten Strange, who looms as a quality international prospect in the coming years.

However, we are yet to see the 23-year-old in action at Super Rugby level this year as a hand fracture has kept him out of action for the Crusaders.

A return to the playing field is on the horizon, though, leaving Strange plenty of time to stamp his mark on proceedings, but with no game time to his name combined with the rise of Walker-Leawere, an All Blacks XV spot could come calling instead.

Other potential candidates: Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Scott Scrafton, Manaaki Selby-Rickit

6) Shannon Frizell

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Age: 26
Test caps: 9
Super Rugby: Highlanders
Province: Tasman

Like his Highlanders teammate Coltman, Shannon Frizell has battled to find a strong run of form in Super Rugby since returning from last year’s World Cup.

An injury call-up for Luke Jacobson ahead of the global tournament in Japan, the 26-year-old is perhaps the victim of a very green Highlanders outfit that is still looking to find its feet in Super Rugby and might only do so within the next couple of years.

It means that we yet to see the powerful ball-running that has become synonymous with Frizell’s name since he first bolted into the All Blacks squad two years ago, and his chances of national selection this year may have diminished as a result of that.

Instead, Crusaders rookie Cullen Grace and Chiefs workhorse Lachlan Boshier have become probable candidates for maiden All Blacks call-ups, while Jacobson is still hanging in the wings, although he has proven to be increasingly injury-prone.

Unless there is a significant turnaround in fortunes for Frizell throughout Super Rugby and the Mitre 10 Cup, he may have to work his way back into All Blacks contention through their second-tier side.

Other potential candidates: Luke Jacobson, Vaea Fifita, Tom Robinson

7) Dalton Papalii

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Age: 22
Test caps: 3
Super Rugby: Blues
Province: Counties Manukau

Even with Matt Todd’s off-season exit to Japan, trying to crack into the All Blacks as an openside flanker remains a fearsome challenge thanks to the presence of both Ardie Savea and Sam Cane.

Add to that the relentless form of Boshier – a natural openside who has been playing at No. 6 for the Chiefs to accommodate for Cane – and it looks a mammoth task for Dalton Papalii to tie down a place in the national side.

That’s not to say that the 22-year-old hasn’t done an admirable job for the Blues as they push to end an almost decade-long Super Rugby play-offs drought, but his placing in this team says more about the strength of competition against him rather than his form or ability.

There will be a raft of casualties in the loose forward department when the All Blacks squad is named, and many will argue that the likes of Papalii, Tom Christie and Du’Plessis Kirifi all warrant spots in the top side.

Regardless of who makes or breaks the All Blacks this year, it will be the names of those who miss out that will act as a testament to the depth of quality New Zealand is blessed with in this position.

Other potential candidates: Tom Christie, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Blake Gibson, Dillon Hunt

8) Pita Gus Sowakula

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Age: 25
Test caps: uncapped
Super Rugby: Chiefs
Province: Taranaki

Many questions have been raised as to who will fill the massive void at No. 8 for the All Blacks following Kieran Read’s retirement from international rugby last year.

Savea’s proven versatility and world-class talent puts him in good stead going into the international season to fill that role, while the performances of both Hoskins Sotutu and Akira Ioane at the Blues have been tantalising to say the least.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that Sotutu is in line for an unexpected All Blacks call-up, and if Ioane can consistently back-up his display against the Hurricanes in Wellington over the weekend, he could well follow suit.

That leaves Pita Gus Sowakula, who has been in sublime form for the Chiefs, as the next cab off the rank.

The former Fijian basketball representative lingers as a lock-in selection for the All Blacks XV given his rampant start to the new Super Rugby campaign, but whether his test rugby ambitions lies with Fiji or New Zealand is another question.

Other potential candidates: Gareth Evans, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u

9) Bryn Hall

(Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Age: 28
Test caps: uncapped
Super Rugby: Crusaders
Province: North Harbour

Barring injury, there should be little debate surrounding who the All Blacks will select as their three halfbacks in 2020.

World Cup attendees Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara and Brad Weber should all retain their places in the national squad through their collective experience and solid form in Super Rugby.

That leaves the halfback spot wide open for the All Blacks XV, and given his prominence with the Crusaders not just this year, but over their past three title-winning seasons, Bryn Hall would be hard done by not to win selection here.

He would be pushed hard by Super Rugby teammate Mitchell Drummond and Chiefs back-up Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, both of whom can claim All Blacks experience that Hall is yet to taste.

Other potential candidates: Mitchell Drummond, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi

10) Josh Ioane

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Age: 24
Test caps: 1
Super Rugby: Highlanders
Province: Otago

Being forced to play out of position for a side that is grappling to gain any traction can’t be helping Josh Ioane’s hopes of playing for the All Blacks, regardless of what his Highlanders coaches have said about his future as a second-five-eighth.

With just one win from five matches, much of the emphasis surrounding the Dunedin franchise’s plight has been focused on the decision to play Ioane at No. 12 while new recruit Mitch Hunt takes the reigns at first-five.

The dual-playmaking axis has failed to fire, though, and as the pair take time to wrap their heads around their shared pivotal duties, Ioane’s chances of adding to his solitary test cap this year appears to be hindering.

That’s not an indictment of his ability as a player, but it is representative of the frustrating situation he finds himself in as he attempts to accustom himself to an unfamiliar position that has been thrust upon him.

Unless he is thrown back into the Highlanders’ No. 10 jersey, which doesn’t seem likely, Ioane’s brightest prospect for the year at hand might be to play well in his favoured position for Otago in the Mitre 10 Cup and push for a place with the All Blacks XV.

Other potential candidates: Otere Black, Stephen Perofeta, Fletcher Smith

11) Mark Telea

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Age: 23
Test caps: uncapped
Super Rugby: Blues
Province: North Harbour

Young Blues wing Mark Telea has emerged as one of the biggest surprise packages of Super Rugby thus far.

After four years of toiling away at Mitre 10 Cup level for North Harbour, the 23-year-old has exploded onto the scene for the Blues this year to score tries, clock up running metres and beat defenders at will.

It would admittedly be a stretch to put him in the All Blacks reckoning at this stage with George Bridge and Rieko Ioane still present, but if he can maintain this kind of form for the remainder of the year, an All Blacks XV call-up would be deserved reward.

Other potential candidates: Jona Nareki, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Salesi Rayasi

12) TJ Faiane

(Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Age: 24
Test caps: uncapped
Super Rugby: Blues
Province: Auckland

Despite the departures of Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty from the All Blacks’ midfield, it feels like there is a sense of who their respective successors are going to be.

From a second-five perspective, Ngani Laumape cannot be denied of a spot in the national squad after missing the World Cup, and should slot right back into the All Blacks as a like-for-like replacement for Williams.

Leading the charge for the best of the rest is TJ Faiane, who is finally realising his long-awaited potential following years of injury-ridden spells on the sideline.

His attacking threat has always been evident since he was a New Zealand schoolboy star, but it’s his maturity that has really come on in leaps and bounds, as seen when he captained Auckland to their first domestic title in over a decade two seasons ago.

Those attributes, combined with a noticeable defensive impact, have paid dividends in Super Rugby, and it makes Faiane a frontrunner to don the No. 12 jersey for the All Blacks XV later this year.

Other potential candidates: Alex Nankivell, Tei Walden, Sio Tomkinson

13) Vince Aso

(Photo by Elias Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Age: 25
Test caps: uncapped
Super Rugby: Hurricanes
Province: Wellington

On the other end of the spectrum, the exit of Crotty has opened up a space for a centre to take centre stage in the All Blacks camp, but in young Braydon Ennor, it seems that vacancy has been swiftly taken.

Applying pressure on him is the evergreen Vince Aso, who has long been a standout for the Hurricanes without ever really breaking through into the national ranks.

His exploits in the domestic game have been well-documented since he burst into form with the Hurricanes in their title-winning season in 2016, and his full array of attacking skills have been on show again this year.

However, now at the age of 25, the next season or so looms as a make or break period for Aso if he wants to crack on into the higher levels of the game in New Zealand, and a spot in the All Blacks XV might just be the place to do that.

Other potential candidates: Quinn Tupaea, Rob Thompson

14) Solomon Alaimalo

(Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Age: 24
Test caps: uncapped
Super Rugby: Chiefs
Province: Waikato

Chiefs flyer Solomon Alaimalo has been turning heads in New Zealand ever since he made his provincial debut for Northland four years ago, when his hot-stepping antics were first seen.

The 24-year-old has since elevated his game to become a standout at Super Rugby level for the Chiefs, where his finishing prowess, lightning agility, refined kicking game and solidity under the high ball have become an integral aspect of the franchise’s backline.

While he can’t be too far off an All Blacks call-up, Alaimalo – who can also play fullback – has a raft of contenders, such as Sevu Reece, Damian McKenzie and Jordie Barrett blocking his path to national honours.

With that much quality ahead of him in the pecking order, a spell in the All Blacks XV could provide the Chiefs star the springboard he needs to push for the main All Blacks squad.

Other potential candidates: Shaun Stevenson, Wes Goosen, Josh McKay, Caleb Clarke

15) David Havili

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Age: 25
Test caps: 3
Super Rugby: Crusaders
Province: Tasman

Arguably the form player of Super Rugby so far this season would probably have the best case to feel hard done by should he miss out the All Blacks this season.

Whether he’s been at first-five or fullback, David Havili has been sensational for the Crusaders and acted as their primary attacking weapon in the opening rounds of the campaign.

However, emergency surgery to mend a bowel infection will keep the 25-year-old sidelined for an undisclosed period of Super Rugby.

Even if he was available to play, there would still be a mountain of work ahead of him to dislodge McKenzie and Barrett from their perches at the top of the national pecking order.

No matter how good Havili has been or will be when he fully recovers, it will take something miraculous to surpass McKenzie and Barrett as one of the top two fullbacks in the country, leaving the All Blacks XV’s No. 15 jersey with his name written all over it.

Other potential candidates: Will Jordan, Chase Tiatia, Vilimoni Koroi

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