25 Nov 2014


8:30 pm on 25 November 2014

Another rugby season is over and the All Blacks continue to dominate the game, with just one loss and the world number one ranking secured for a fifth year.

However 2015 will certainly test the All Blacks as they try to become the first team ever to win back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles.

But the 2014 season has confirmed what many already suspected; Richie McCaw is still the best openside flanker and leader in the game.

Richie McCaw has "no regard for his body" says fellow All Black Kieran Read.

All Black captain Richie McCaw. Photo: Photosport

Questions were asked earlier this year about the form of the 33-year-old but having now played his 100th test as captain, there is no reason to suggest that number will not grow significantly in 2015.

His game still warrants his selection and, by all accounts, he's an inspiration to his players.

Perhaps his game time could be cut a little during 2015 to make sure he's fighting fit for the Cup.

Dan Carter kicks a penalty as Aaron Cruden watches from the sidelines

All Black first five Dan Carter. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Dan Carter remains potentially the best option for the All Blacks at first five in 2015 despite playing in just two tests this season, coming off the bench against the United States and starting against Scotland.

At the top of his game, no one controls a game like he does and his tactical kicking is outstanding. with a full Super Rugby season under his belt and (fingers crossed, no injuries), he's still number one.

Aaron Cruden, waterboy

Aaron Cruden on the sideline. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Aaron Cruden started the season as the obvious replacement for Carter when he fractured a bone in his leg but after his late night and missed flight to Argentina incident, he didn't seem to regain the same confidence.

Beauden Barrett has been given his opportunities and made the most of them but seems to be at his unpredictable best when on the wing or at fullback. I'm still not sold on his running of the game early in a Test match.

Colin Slade kicks the winning conversion against Australia 2014.

Colin Slade in action against Australia this year. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The big improver for me at No 10 this year was Colin Slade. Usually called up as an injury replacement, Slade made the most of his six test appearances this year, all but one of those coming off the bench.

He's generally made an impact every time he's gone on the field, either with his kick-chase or goal kicking and has become a reliable and valuable member of the squad.

Unfortunately, a fit Carter means that Slade probably isn't going to get a lot of game time at first five during the Super Rugby competition, and whether that hurts his game remains to be seen.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen

All Black coach Steve Hansen. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

So coach Steve Hansen has apparently got most of his World Cup squad already penned into his note book but there are a few positions and players that he'll still be scratching his nose over.

Prop Wyatt Crocket's rise means Tony Woodcock is under pressure to command a starting position when he returns from injury, while Charlie Faumuina has also improved his game. There is plenty of depth there and probably a place for all his top props in the squad.

Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick stand out in the locking department, while Patrick Tuipulotu has some real skills and is a star in the making.

But which other locks will make it isn't so clear. Luke Romano was the obvious choice but he's under pressure from Jeremy Thrush.

We still have a Super Rugby season and shortened Rugby Championship to go and someone could emerge, just like Malakai Fekitoa did last year.

In fact, it's in that area of midfield and outside back that there could be a few selection headaches; can they fit them all into the World Cup squad?

Sonny Bill Williams

Sonny Bill Williams in action against the US. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Ma'a Nonu will return from injury, Sonny Bill Williams is a must, Malakai Fekitoa is a game breaker, Ryan Crotty has played so well either starting or off the bench and you have to have a place for the general, Conrad Smith.

Outside them are Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Julian Savea, Charles Piutau, and Cory Jane with Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade also options.

There are options right across the park with the only areas of concern for me the third hooker and the third halfback.

The Super Rugby competition will be a good trial.

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