John McBeth: Our World Cup All Blacks
Our World Cup All BlacksBy John McBeth
There has always been enormous interest in the naming of an All Black touring team and last night's announcement was eagerly awaited, even though most fans would have chosen at least 29 or 30 of the players selected.
It was a different kind of occasion to what was experienced back in the 1960's, 70's or even for the first Rugby World Cup team in 1987.
Forty or fifty years ago nobody really had any idea of what the selectors had in mind. There were often several trials, which sometimes featured over 150 players, possibly an inter island match or a final trial, then we listened to the announcement of the team on radio. The players weren't flown into the capital for a parliamentary function. They weren't even told of their selection before the team was made public. They stood at an aftermatch function with officials and hangerson and learned of their future from the chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Union.Then they were faced with muting their celebrations because they could be standing with another player who'd missed out and who had nowhere to hide.
Invariably there would be surprise selections or omissions and always there was much to discuss.
Not this time. The intial squad was anounced some weeks ago and the All Blacks played five tests which gave everyone a fair indication of what Steve Hansen might be planning. I had my doubts about the composition of the fullbacks and wings but happened to be at Wellington airport yesterday and was told by many that Waisake Naholo had been there so that settled my selection.
Naholo really is the interesting selection. Without doubt he is a sensational attacker and the All Blacks might benefit from his explosive power and his unpredictability. He and Nehe Milner-Skudder might prove to be inspired selections and could play havoc against the weaker teams.
Versatile players can be rewarded. An ability to play in two or three positions definitely helps. I am looking for the player in the near future who is comfortable at halfback and one other position, because being forced to carry three specialist halfbacks is not ideal. But versatility has carried the day for the likes of Beauden Barrett. He is the least consistent goalkicker of the four players in contention for first five eighths places (carter, Sopoaga and Slade being the others) and his attacking thrust has been all but negated by top notch defences of late. In fact since he was injured during Super Rugby, Barrett has not returned to his best form. The long break between matches has, hopefully, enabled him to bounce back.
Those players unlucky enought to miss out on this World Cup team could still play significant roles come the tournament. Injuries are sure to be a factor but that is where the overall depth of our rugby at present will come into its own.
The World Cup is not far away. Steve Hansen cleverly repeated his comment that the All Blacks are not defending the World Cup, because they don't have it now. The All Blacks are aiming to win the cup, not defend it and it won't be an easy task.