9 Nov 2015

We should be excited about the 2016 All Blacks

7:54 am on 9 November 2015

OPINION: There will be a number of changes but I'm looking forward to watching the All Blacks next year.

The All Blacks will play 2016 as two-time defending World Cup champions, but the side that runs out for the first Test against Wales on June 11th at Eden Park will have a new look to it.

Sam Cane leads the All Black haka against Namibia RWC2015.

Sam Cane leads the All Black haka against Namibia RWC2015. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

With Richie McCaw expected to stand down and another half a dozen either retiring or heading overseas, it could well be a new-look side that coach Steve Hansen picks for that game - and I'm quite excited about it.

Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodock have retired while Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith are heading off to play in France, so the depth of the squad, which is something Hansen has always tried to work on, will be tested.

The front row appears to be okay with Dane Coles the first pick at hooker, while Cody Taylor, James Parsons and Nathan Harris all have some international experience.

With Woodcock suffering an injury in the World Cup quarter-final and Wyatt Crockett missing the semi-final and final, the propping situation was tested and responded well.

Ben Franks is another heading overseas, but his brother Owen will be a regular for a few years to come, while Charlie Faumuina, Joe Moody and Crockett will be the other mainstays.

Pauliasi Manu and Nepo Laulala from the Chiefs and Jeff Toomaga-Allen are also contenders.

Sam Cane has bided his time at No.7 since debuting in 2012, with more than half of his 31 Tests coming as a substitute - but that is about to change as he becomes the regular starter. Ardie Savea of the Hurricanes appears the obvious choice to be his backup, but Victor Vito could also fill that role as he can happily drop into all three loose forward positions.

It's the midfield that will provide the most headaches for Hansen. Nonu and Smith are players that don't come along often and replacing them will be tough.

Sonny Bill Williams will attempt to make the All Blacks Sevens squad for the Rio2016 Olympics, which will rule him out, leaving just Malakai Fekitoa as the only midfield member of the World Cup squad left standing for next year.

Steve, please don't shift Ben Smith away from fullback.

Ryan Crotty, Charlie Ngatai, George Moala and Rene Ranger, who has returned from overseas, will come into the mix.

The centres may look a little thin to start with, but like any player in the All Blacks whoever is selected is expected to stand up.

All Black Aaron Cruden

All Black Aaron Cruden Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Carter has moved on, but already there's a que lining up to replace him. Aaron Cruden will hopefully get back to his best during the Super Rugby season, but Beauden Barrett is right behind him, although he has shown a skill as being a utility replacement, while Lima Sopoaga must also come into consideration.

In recent years the All Blacks haven't had to rebuild, but this will be the closest they come to it. However the players who come in to fill the holes know the All Blacks system, and so the transition should be made a lot easier.

As I said earlier, the half dozen players who are leaving can be considered exceptional and so we shouldn't expect everything to run completely smoothly, but it shouldn't be far off.

I'm excited about next year, I think there will be a couple of losses, but I expect more players to come through the system and become stars in their own right.

The 2017 Lions tour is a good step along the way to the All Blacks having a solid core of players to defend the World Cup title in Japan in four years.

My possible line-up for the first Test against Wales next June is: Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.