How about those ‘Canes? Steve Hansen is obviously a fan of the lethal Hurricanes backline. No fewer than five players from the Windy City made Hansen’s All Blacks squad which boasts 1164 caps of experience but sprung a few surprises in naming two new players.
So what what were the talking points as the All Blacks named his squad for the first Test?
Will we see the entire Hurricanes backline in the All Blacks squad by the end of the season?
Beauden Barrett, Ngani Laumape, TJ Perenara, Julian Savea and Jordie Barrett have all made the squad. Matt Proctor and Nehe Milner-Scudder will play for the New Zealand Maori side. Milner-Scudder is a certainty to return to the All Black fold if he can stay injury free.
Proctor is also returning from a long term concussion absence after being very impressive in the early rounds of the Super 18. Both he and his pacy replacement in the Canes midfield, Vince Aso, could force their way into the Rugby Championship squad if the Canes get on a role in the knockout games in the Super 18.
Why weren’t Damian McKenzie, Malakai Fekitoa and Steve Luatua selected?
When Steve Hansen can leave out players of this class, you know some serious talent has been selected. McKenzie’s omission in favour of the youngest Barrett, Jordie, was probably Hansen’s closest call. For such physically contrasting players, they have remarkably similar, and complete skill sets. They both have searing pace, intelligent and instinctive playmaking, solid goalkicking, outrageous offloading and versatility to cover several positions.
Jordie’s ever evolving partnership with brother Beauden probably tipped the balance in his favour as the two have pulled off some magical plays for the Hurricanes this year. Jordie Barrett and McKenzie go head to head in the Hurricanes vs Chiefs game tomorrow and McKenzie might just try out his dazzling footwork on the lanky 1.96m rookie to prove a point.
Fekitoa’s omission from the squad was another big shock. By all accounts, the powerful Highlander seemed to have rediscovered some of the pace and power of his sensational rookie season, and in recent weeks had showcased an impressive short kicking game. Fekitoa’s powerful defense and ability to win turnovers was another big tick in his favour.
However, he does have a tendency to shell the odd pass, and while his distribution skills have improved markedly, he probably doesn’t boast quite the same instinctive offloading and passing skillsets as Sonny Bill Williams and Anton Lienert Brown. Luatua’s absence comes down to a very disappointing decision by him to join to recently demoted Bristol side next year without consulting All Black management. Hansen values loyalty, but also rewards service and so he has selected the more experienced Aaron Cruden and Tawera Kerr-Barlow despite them being in the same contractual position as Luatua.
Would an ex-League pairing of SBW and Ngani Laumape be dynamite or a disaster?
Many fans would love to see this potentially explosive combination together. Laumape has been touted as the ‘new Nonu’ and to have him running off SBW’s shoulder ready for the inevitable offload is mouth-watering stuff. Laumape’s pace, power and low centre of gravity also give him an excellent contrast to the high running style of Williams. The two may lack Ryan Crotty’s rounded skill set and game management, but more than make up for in attacking potential.
Will Steve Hansen’s gamble on injured players coming good pay off?
Dane Coles has not laced up his matchday rugby boots since March 18. Ryan Crotty has a rib complaint. Ben Smith has had ongoing concussion issues. Kieran Read, Israel Dagg and Lima Sopoaga have had limited game time. Will it matter? Does matchday sharpness, fitness and form count for anything in the modern age? Hansen has successfully rehabilitated the form of out of sorts players like Ma’a Nonu and Julian Savea in the past, but working magic on injured bodies is another matter.
Which two wings will join Ben Smith in the back three?
After Rieko Ioane’s sensational performance against the Lions, this question has become even harder to answer. Waisake Naholo and Ioane are clearly the two players in the most devastating form. However, Israel Dagg and Julian Savea have far more experience. Dagg’s versatility and ability under the high ball will probably see him secure the right wing spot. Savea will probably retain the left, but will have to take his chances and get involved if he is to keep Naholo and Ioane at bay. Ioane will probably get his chance from the bench as he can cover both wing and midfield. The picture will get even more clouded when Nehe Milner-Scudder clocked up enough game time to be considered for selection again. Five absolute world class wings. What a happy Hansen headache to have.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena