All Blacks unlikely to spring a surprise
August 22, 2011
All Blacks head coach Graham Henry is unlikely to spring any major surprises when he announced his squad for the Rugby World Cup © Getty Images
All Blacks head coach Graham Henry is not expected to spring any major surprises when he announces his squad for the Rugby World Cup on Tuesday.
Henry will take a break from their preparations for the Tri-Nations decider against Australia in Brisbane on Saturday to reveal the make up of the 30-man party that will launch their World Cup assault on home soil next month.
The Wallabies cannot reclaim the Bledisloe Cup, though in one aspect of 2011 trans-Tasman rivalry they reign supreme: the All Blacks' announcement cannot hope to rival Australia's dramatic unveiling. Rocky Elsom relieved of the captaincy, Matt Giteau pre-empting news of his non-selection on Twitter, James O'Connor too hungover to even bother showing up last Thursday... confirmation of the 30 men burdened with the responsibility of ending New Zealand's World Cup heartache at Eden Park on October 23 should be mundane in comparison at Brisbane's Hilton Hotel tomorrow (2pmNZT).
There will be absentees when Graham Henry names the squad tasked with succeeding where their predecessors have failed since 1991, though purely because they will not be required for Saturday's Tri-Nations decider with the Wallabies at Suncorp Stadium. With prolific tweeter Neemia Tialata long out of contention for a second World Cup, Giteau-esque angst is unlikely to emerge on New Zealand's social networks tomorrow, though it could be prudent to monitor Cory Jane's account.
The composition of the outside backs is one of few intriguing elements to the announcement, the one area where distress will be most evident. There is no way to accommodate Mils Muliaina, Israel Dagg, Jane, Zac Guildford, Hosea Gear, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Isaia Toeava and Richard Kahui in the same congested area though the latter is more likely to figure in the midfield after his showing against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth.
Dagg, despite minimal preparation, probably secured a spot after a promising performance last weekend; Toeava's versatility also appeals so Guildford and Gear could be the unfortunates if the selectors are wary of including an injury-prone veteran Sivivatu. Jane is the other complicating factor. He was originally named in the Tri-Nations squad as injury cover after a diffident campaign with the Hurricanes, but potentially made ground against the Springboks in Wellington.
The midfield has been an exclusion zone since Sonny Bill Williams made his debut on last year's Grand Slam tour though Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, New Zealand's most experienced Test pairing, are clearly the incumbents. Kahui, Toeava, or both, provide the cover. Daniel Carter's back-up is the one position where a late alteration is possible -- though unlikely -- after Colin Slade's unconvincing audition in the All Blacks' 18-5 loss to the Springboks at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Sunday.
However, Slade will probably be given the benefit of the doubt, and Piri Weepu, one of the three halfbacks, is a stop-gap if that evening in Port Elizabeth test becomes a recurring nightmare for the Canterbury and Highlanders pivot. If the All Black selectors opt to discard Slade, Aaron Cruden, ironically the playmaker jettisoned after his first Test start in Sydney last year, would gain an unlikely reprieve.
The loose forwards' composition is the only other area where the selectors could spring a late surprise after a makeshift trio conceded the breakdown battle to a Heinrich Brussow-inspired Springboks trio.
Captain Richie McCaw is the only specialist openside and the inability to cover his absence was a glaring deficiency of the 18-5 defeat. Adam Thomson struggled with his accuracy at the breakdown but it would represent a major philosophical change to promote the uncapped Matt Todd or Luke Braid at late notice.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans faced the same dilemma before the Wallabies squad was settled and chose David Pocock as the only No 7, reasoning players with size and physicality at the breakdown were preferable to including another forager who would probably earn minimal game time.
The only "fresh" face expected to be named is Anthony Boric, the 20-Test back-up lock who has been sidelined for nine weeks with a foot injury. Jared Hoeata, the only new All Black of 2011, will step aside if Boric emerges unscathed from North Harbour's provincial game against Wellington in Albany on Friday night.
Meanwhile, loose-head prop Wyatt Crockett shapes as the aggrieved front rower despite a compelling Super Rugby campaign with the Crusaders. His selection in the Tri-Nations squad was based on Tony Woodcock's slow rehabilitation from a foot injury and with the All Blacks most-capped prop finally seeing action in Port Elizabeth his experience will be preferred to Crockett's greater mobility and work in the loose providing he deemed is medically sound.
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