It’s been less than a fortnight since Ian Foster named his first All Blacks squad, but New Zealand’s head coach is already planning on adding a further 10 to 11 players to his 35-man side for the Rugby Championship.
Quarantine restrictions upon arrival in Australia for the tournament would leave potential injury replacements in limbo if called upon throughout November and December, leading Foster to announce today that nearly a dozen players will travel with his original squad.
As a result, we have combed through a raft of players in line for a potential recall to an All Blacks squad that could feature as many as 46 men.
Liam Coltman (Otago)
Lineout inaccuracies have been the root of Liam Coltman’s demise from a World Cup hooker to back-up Highlanders rake in a matter of months.
Still, the eight-test veteran has plenty of experience to offer, and would be a suitable fourth-string hooker to support Codie Taylor, Dance Coles and Asafo Aumua.
Highlanders co-captain Ash Dixon was impressive enough to keep Coltman benched this year, but at 32-years-old, he doesn’t have sights set on grabbing his first test cap, although Blues front rower Kurt Eklund could be an outside chance of beating Coltman to the punch.
Angus Ta’avao (Auckland)
Highlighted by Foster as one of two players – alongside Coltman – as the unluckiest to have missed out on the initial 35-man side, Australia’s Rugby Championship hosting rights acts as a gift-wrapped opportunity for Angus Ta’avao to win a recall.
Dropped from the national squad after making just three appearances since returning from a six-month quad injury, it seems the 14-test prop has the experience and versatility to be a solid back-up option to the likes of Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Nepo Laulala and Joe Moody across the ditch.
Manaaki Selby-Rickit (Southland)
With Brodie Retallick (sabbatical) and Scott Barrett (toe injury) both unavailable for the remainder of the year, Foster was forced to name two uncapped locks to accompany Patrick Tuipulotu and Sam Whitelock.
However, the Highlanders locking partners, whose individual qualities made them creditable contenders for maiden All Blacks call-ups, might be usurped in the race for an international debut by their franchise teammate Manaaki Selby-Rickit.
Starring off the bench for the South Island in this month’s North v South clash, Selby-Rickit showed he has the raw athleticism to flourish in the future, and it wouldn’t be unfathomable to see the Southlander join Strange and Vaa’i as long-term development projects.
Scott Scrafton (Auckland)
Selby-Rickit’s biggest threat to a shock All Blacks call-up would seemingly be Auckland veteran Scott Scrafton.
In a move that would be indicative of how thin New Zealand’s lock stocks are, the 27-year-old may head the pecking order behind Tuipulotu, Whitelock, Strange and Vaa’i through his comparative wealth of experience that he can flex over Selby-Rickit.
Scrafton’s six years of provincial rugby and five Super Rugby seasons might be what Foster wants at his disposal in Australia, and that could make the 2m second rower one of the unlikeliest All Blacks selections since Brett Cameron played Japan two years ago.
Lachlan Boshier (Taranaki)
His rich vein of form in Super Rugby this year could well be rewarded, though, with as many as two loose forwards thought to be added to the touring Rugby Championship squad.
If two further loose forwards are picked, one would assume one of those players would fill the role of a fetcher or pilferer, and given how well he’s played for the Chiefs, it would be harsh to rule Boshier out of an extended squad.
Tom Sanders (Canterbury)
Who fills the alternate loose forward role as an enforcer-type player is more debatable, but there was plenty of praise for Tom Sanders’ efforts for the South Island a couple of weeks ago.
Playing at No. 8 yet equally adept at blindside flanker, the Cantabrian was a handful for the North, spurring some pundits to predict him as an outside shot to make Foster’s 35-man cut.
That didn’t come to fruition, but with nearly a dozen more players to come into the squad, it would be hard to imagine Sanders not coming into consideration.
Marino Mikaele-Tu’u (Hawke’s Bay)
More of a consistent standout than Sanders this year, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u was very unlucky to have missed the North squad considering how well he fared in Super Rugby.
One of the most improved players in the competition this year, the 23-year-old was a sensation off the back of the scrum for the Highlanders, dominating in various attacking statistics across the board.
Mikaele-Tu’u’s powerful ball-carrying has made his transition to fill the boots of Luke Whitelock much smoother than most would have anticipated, and for that reason the Hawke’s Bay product must be close to pushing Sanders for inclusion in the enlarged squad.
Finlay Christie (Tasman)
Riding the Auckland franchise’s resurgent wave, the Scottish-born halfback was rewarded for his contribution to the Blues’ runners-up finish in Super Rugby Aotearoa by winning North v South honours with the South Island.
Being named alongside All Blacks incumbents Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara and Brad Weber in the match day squads is indicative of Christie’s standing in New Zealand’s halfback pecking order, and he would have to be among the leading candidates to support that trio if required.
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Bay of Plenty)
Christie’s biggest obstacle in earning international selection is three-test All Black Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.
Since his shock call-up to the national squad two years ago, the new Bay of Plenty recruit has struggled to overtake Weber in the Chiefs environment, with limited game time restricting him from building a case for a recall.
However, it’s that international experience that may make Tahuriorangi more favourable with the All Blacks selectors than Christie in what looms as a selection predicament in the ilk of Selby-Rickit v Scrafton at lock.
Josh Ioane (Otago)
Other than maybe Boshier, Highlanders playmaker Josh Ioane can be considered the unluckiest player to have missed out on selection a couple of weeks ago, contrary to what Foster said about Ta’avao and Coltman.
Being played out of position at the start of the year and carrying a niggling injury throughout Super Rugby Aotearoa hampered the 24-year-old’s chances of adding to his one test cap, but a blistering finish to the season from No. 10 catapulted him back into the conversation.
Add his pinpoint cross-kick to set-up Will Jordan’s match-winning try for the South into the mix, and you feel it’s only a matter of time, if not a few weeks, before Ioane is brought back into the All Blacks.
Peter Umaga-Jensen (Wellington)
A breakout campaign for the Hurricanes and a broken forearm sustained by his franchise teammate Ngani Laumape has paved the way for Peter Umaga-Jensen to emerge on the precipice of All Blacks selection.
Starting the season as a prospective star for the future, the 22-year-old midfielder stepped up to the plate earlier than many first thought, impressing with a balance of tidy distribution and devastating ball-carrying.
His form yielded a North v South call-up, and while that wasn’t enough to force his way into the national squad the first time round, there are few who can demand selection based on form like Umaga-Jensen can.
Mark Telea (Tasman)
Speaking of breakout campaigns, Tasman speedster Mark Telea cannot be far off from joining the All Blacks outside backs after his stellar debut season with the Blues.
Springing up many a time on the right wing as part of an electric Blues backline, Telea was one of Super Rugby’s best rookies out there, and his inclusion in the North squad is a hint that the All Blacks selectors have taken note of his efforts thus far.
Even though he didn’t take to the field in that match, his try-scoring exploits might just be enough to warrant a place in the national camp.
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