The All Black squad to play the Irish and Welsh touring sides named today contains four new players but few real surprises.
You wouldn’t describe any of the newcomers as ‘bolters’, as the four new caps have been speculated upon at length by the Kiwi media (well, what else is there to do over there?).
The new boys are young Aaron Cruden from the Hurricanes, Israel Dagg (Highlanders), Benson Stanley (Blues) and Victor Vito (Hurricanes).
A plethora of injuries have opened up opportunities for these guys; however, at least three of them wouldn’t be there if everyone had been on deck.
The depth in New Zealand rugby just ain’t what it used to be but this will help to broaden the pool for future battles.
There are casualties of course – Rodney So’oialo being the most prominent. Again, it’s not a surprise as some telegraphing had been going on since this time last year.
Other players who haven’t made it include Luke McAlister, Isaac Ross, John Afoa, Liam Messam, Hosea Gear, Brendon Leonard, Tanerau Latimer and Corey Flynn.
Mils Muliaina and Tom Donnelly return from injury without any substantive game time but that luxury wasn’t afforded to McAlister who is dropped to the NZ Maori team.
Notable returnees include hard running halfback Piri Weepu and Joe Rockocoko, a former great who seems to have overcome his form slump from recent years.
If Daniel Carter gets injured they’re going to be in a bit of trouble as they have no depth whatsoever in the five eighth position due to injuries to Stephen Donald and Mike Delany.
Aaron Cruden is a highly talented young bloke but his ability to manage a fully-fledged All Black backline would have to be in some doubt.
The Manawatu Turbos star’s selection is a ‘Julian Huxley’ good news story – he overcame testicular cancer in 2008 to reach this new peak – great stuff.
Israel Dagg is the backup fullback for Muliaina. A former NZ Sevens player, he originates from Lindisfarne College in Hawkes Bay (‘There’s something about a Magpie’).
Interestingly, he’s a former junior representative fast bowler for Central Districts and reportedly reached speeds of up to 143 kph to frighten the life out of pedestrian middle order batsmen.
Benson Stanley is a hard running centre as you’d probably expect from the nephew of All Black great Joe Stanley. He’s a graduate (BCom) from Auckland Uni. He was born in NSW so we’re too late…..
Victor Vito is another who’s come up via the Sevens ranks as well as NZ U19 and U21 teams. He’s had a great Super 14 series for the Hurricanes and is lightning fast for a backrower (40m @ 4.91sec). He’s doing Law and Classics at Victoria Uni in Wellington and is a male model in his spare time.
Any forward pack that contains the Myth, Mealamu, Thorn, Kaino and McCaw is going to take some stopping. The Irish (now minus Captain Paul O’Connell) and Welsh test sides are both experienced and successful; however, I can’t see them overcoming the All Black First XV too easily, despite ‘confident’ Northern Hemisphere predictions.
All Blacks Squad (for the Irish & Welsh Tests)
Backs: Cory Jane (Wellington Hurricanes), Israel Dagg (Otago Highlanders), Mils Muliaina (Waikato Chiefs), Joe Rokocoko (Auckland Blues), Zac Guildford (Canterbury Crusaders), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Richard Kahui (Chiefs) Benson Stanley (Blues), Aaron Cruden (Hurricanes), Daniel Carter (Crusaders), Jimmy Cowan (Highlanders), Piri Weepu (Hurricanes).
Forwards: Kieran Read (Crusaders), Richie McCaw (Crusaders, captain), Adam Thomson (Highlanders), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Victor Vito (Hurricanes), Brad Thorn (Crusaders), Anthony Boric (Blues), Tom Donnelly (Highlanders), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Neemia Tialata (Hurricanes), Ben Franks (Crusaders), Tony Woodcock (Blues), Keven Mealamu (Blues), Aled de Malmanche (Chiefs).
Injured: Mike Delany (shoulder), Stephen Donald (shoulder), Jason Eaton (knee), Andrew Hore (shoulder), Ma’a Nonu (knee), Sitiveni Sivivatu (shoulder), Isaia Toeava (hip) and Ali Williams (Achilles).
Matches: 12 June v Ireland (New Plymouth), 19 June v Wales (Dunedin), 26 June v Wales (Hamilton)