A new World Cup cycle typically brings with it the introduction of a crop of young new talent to international squads.
In New Zealand’s case, a new man in charge of the All Blacks will also bring plenty of change.
When Steve Hansen took over as head coach in 2012, he quickly blooded a slew of new players who became mainstays under his reign.
Dane Coles, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Sam Cane, Aaron Smith, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea all earned their first international caps in Hansen’s first year.
Whilst not every debutant takes to Test rugby like a fish to rugby, all nine of those players were used at the 2015 World Cup.
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Of those eight players, Dixon, Squire, Hames and McKenzie didn’t feature at last year’s global tournament but Dixon was the only one of the four that Hansen actually had the opportunity to select and didn’t.
It may not be the most statistically robust analysis, but it certainly appears that the players who earn international call-ups in the first year post a World Cup have the greatest shot of remaining in the squad for the next showcase tournament.
Which brings us to 2020.
Matt Todd, Kieran Read, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams and Ben Smith all represented the All Blacks at last year’s World Cup but have moved off-shore. Brodie Retallick also won’t be available this year while there’s a host of other former All Blacks, such as Owen Franks and Squire, who have also departed New Zealand.
All in all, there are plenty of spots open in the national set-up.
It’s early days yet, but who could have a look-in at making the All Blacks for their July Test series?
Codie Taylor has at least one more World Cup cycle in him while Dane Coles has declared that he’d like to keep playing for the All Blacks. Assuming both are fit, Foster will likely retain the pair this year but Coles may be under pressure heading forward.
"The model, as it exists now, is not working. Not for fans, not for clubs, not for players and surely not for NZR."
– Hamish Bidwell weighs in on New Zealand Rugby's predicament with the threat of South Africa leaving. https://t.co/EswSmgHtuI
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 11, 2020
Liam Coltman travelled to the World Cup as the third-choice hooker but he’s never cemented his place in the squad and will be challenged by Asafo Aumua this year. Nathan Harris, who’s earned 20 caps since 2014, found himself down the pecking order in 2019 and won’t feature in Super Rugby due to injury.
New Zealand hookers, in general, seem to struggle with delivering high quality lineout ball. The likes of Samison Taukei’aho and Andrew Makalio have impressed in recent times with their work around the park and could be long shots for spots in the squad – but they need to work on their throwing.
All five of New Zealand’s World Cup props, Joe Moody, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Angus Ta’avao and Atu Moli, are still plying their trade in New Zealand. Ta’avao and Moli were somewhat surprising inclusions in last year’s squad but Hansen’s desire for mobility saw them preferred over Owen Franks.
The Hurricanes’ pairing of Alex Fidow and Tyrel Lomax have big raps on them, but the Hurricanes’ scrum hasn’t exactly been water-tight to date. The pair did stand out more against the Jaguares than in round one and – to be fair to them – none of the Hurricanes players looked especially on form against the Stormers.
Karl Tu’inukuafe at the Blues looms as the most likely man to challenge the incumbents for a spot in the All Blacks with his scrummaging up there with the best in the country.
Whitelock will be available for Test duty, however, and will be selected alongside Barrett and Tuipulotu come July. That leaves one open spot for a new second-rower to join the fray.
Pari Pari Parkinson was one of the more impressive locks on show in 2019 and has the frame to play at the highest level. Similarly, Isaiah Walker-Leawere stood out for the Hurricanes.
This year, the most impressive locking combination of the New Zealand sides has arguably been the Chiefs pairing of Mitch Brown and Tyler Ardron – two men who are more used to playing in the back row. Ardron is, of course, a Canadian national representative while Brown is industrious enough to do well on the international circuit but probably lacks the height to play lock against the best in the world.
New Zealand's most experienced forwards had no response to England's young tyros. They've given plenty for their country, but @TomVinicombe suspects they might not have the gas for Test football anymore.https://t.co/esUdVUTyyA#AllBlacks #RWC2019 #ENGvNZL
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 31, 2019
That leaves the Crusaders’ young second-rowers, Mitchell Dunshea and Quinten Strange. Strange, in particular, looks ready to join the All Blacks and make an impact much in the same way that Brodie Retallick did in 2012. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old won’t be available for a few more weeks thanks to a broken hand suffered in the pre-season.
It’s worth noting that Retallick earned an All Blacks call-up in the same year that he debuted for the Chiefs, so even Super Rugby’s fresh meat could be fast-tracked into the national frame.
Sam Cane and Ardie Savea will likely both start in the first-choice side – at least to begin with, but other than that, we could theoretically see a completely new group of loosies.
Shannon Frizell travelled to the World Cup as an option on the blindside flank after Luke Jacobson was sent home due to ongoing concussion issues. Those two will have a head start on their competitors but it’s still anyone’s game.
A new World Cup cycle brings with it a host of new challenges. @AllBlacks selectors will be desperately hoping a few young forwards can step up in the new season, writes @alexmcleod891.https://t.co/lY5YgLi6gh #SuperRugby
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 30, 2020
Jacobson, if fit, could become an automatic selection in the side by season’s end. He’s got the size and mobility needed of an international loose forward and he’s still just 22 years of age.
Boshier has made one clean turnover and forced six penalties at the breakdown while Papalii has kept himself busy on defence for the Blues.
Speaking of defence, the Crusaders’ new flanker, Tom Christie, is leading the competition with 40 tackles to his name.
Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara will remain automatic selections for the All Blacks but the third halfback spot is still up for grabs.
Brad Weber forced his way into the squad on the back of some outstanding form with the Chiefs last year but Foster may feel that three relatively older halfbacks in a squad is one too many – especially when a World Cup title is not on the line.
That opens the door up for the likes of Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Mitchell Drummond and Folau Fakatava – but all three will likely spend most of the season playing back-up to other halfbacks at their clubs.
Tahuriorangi has been in the All Blacks set-up before and garnered praise for his quick pass. He lost ground last year due to receiving minimal minutes at the Chiefs but already it looks like he’s set to play a bigger role in 2020.
Similarly to halfback, Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett are locked in as selections, providing that they’re fit.
Ian Foster will likely want to bring a third player into the mix and Josh Ioane is the only 10 in the country that looks even close to being ready for international rugby.
Aaron Cruden’s return to the Chiefs has further complicated matters. Over the first two weeks of the competition, Cruden has been the best New Zealand first five on show and has looked every bit as accomplished as when he left the country’s shores at the end of 2017. He’ll be on the Chiefs’ books for just the one season, however, before he heads to Japan.
Richie Mo'unga has been #SuperRugby's top first five over the last three years but that's been helped by the incredible pack at the @CrusadersRugby. He won't have that luxury in 2020, writes @TomVinicombe. https://t.co/MpDhMB0lAY
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 15, 2020
Like at halfback, it probably doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to select an older back-up – which is why Foster may actually opt to run with just Mo’unga, Barrett and a slew of other utility players that can cover 10. That would give the likes of Perofeta, Ioane, Harry Plummer and other young players like Kaleb Trask the opportunity to further develop before being thrown in the deep end.
Just Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue remain from the 2019 World Cup squad.
Ngani Laumape will certainly return to the fold, which leaves one last open spot.
Braydon Ennor can cover the outside backs but at centre his speed is especially handy. He’s been the pick of the midfielders on display so far.
There’s plenty of hype surrounding Quinn Tupaea but he likely won’t be ready for a Test call-up in 2020.
Otherwise, relatively experienced operators TJ Faiane and Alex Nankivell have both looked solid for their clubs.
Faiane’s importance to the Blues backline can’t be understated and he has a solid all-round game, while Nankivell adds plenty of impetus to the Chiefs’ backline when called upon.
With Laumape and Ennor both fit, however, it would be hard to see anyone leapfrogging those two into a black jersey.
As always, there are plenty of outside backs putting their hands up for selection.
Ben Smith is the sole player from the World Cup squad to have departed and his role will likely be taken over by Damian McKenzie, who’s back from injury and looked excellent against the Crusaders over the weekend.
George Bridge and Sevu Reece should find themselves back in the squad too and Jordie Barrett is immensely talented, just lacking a little bit of polish. Rieko Ioane looked hungry in the Blues’ defeat to the Chiefs and will surely be given another season with the All Blacks, even if his international form hasn’t been exemplary over the last year and a half.
The wildcard at present is David Havili, whose performances at fullback and first five in the first two weeks of the competition have been up there with the best.
The ability to cover multiple positions is obviously invaluable, and questions will start being asked whether Havili is a better squad option than someone with a bit less experience.
Mark Telea has also impressed for the Blues but will struggle to usurp the likes of Bridge and Ioane.
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