The announcement of the North and South squads for the upcoming all-New Zealand contest has left supporters giving their predictions of how the match – a game that will be for all intents and purposes a Test level encounter – will pan out. Few, if any, countries could rival the strength in depth across New Zealand. This will also be a major influence in who will start for the All Blacks when international rugby returns next November. 

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The selection process has raised a few eyebrows among fans, however, with players being selected on where they first played representative rugby. For instance, this sees Aaron Smith, who recently played his 150th game for the Highlanders, being selected for the North having started his career with Manawatu.

No matter what the criteria, there was always going to be controversy. If the selection was based on where the players were born, there would have also been complaints that a player such as Damian McKenzie has spent the entirety of his career in the North Island despite being born in the South. 

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The Aotearoa Rugby Pod teases out its form All Blacks side

Although there are plenty that are backing each side, it is actually the presence of Smith that is helping make the North favourites in many people’s eyes. 

The scrum-half has just come off an excellent Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, and his potential partnership with Beauden Barrett, as opposed to Richie Mo’unga for the South, could be definitive in deciding the result. 

With TJ Perenara in the squad as well, it appears the North will have the All Blacks’ favoured No9 combination. Smith joins Sevu Reece as some of the high profile names who play for South Island sides to represent the North, while the Hurricanes’ Jordie Barrett will go the other way. 

Elsewhere, the North’s back row is another area receiving a lot of attention in spite of the absence of All Blacks captain Sam Cane. The partnership of Ardie Savea and the in-form Lachlan Boshier on the flank is intriguing and could be complemented by Hoskins Sotutu at No8. 

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The South is of course well represented by the Crusaders, which is a recipe for success given their grip-hold of domestic rugby in New Zealand. They will be spearheaded by Mo’unga and a smattering of Highlanders stars also in this team means they will be a well-oiled side. Despite that, the North still seems to be the fans’ choice at this point. 

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