3 Jul 2019

Rugby: The 'ins and outs' of All Black selections

11:41 am on 3 July 2019

For those who experience it, getting your name read out as part of the All Blacks for the first time is a dream come true.

When it comes with a Rugby World Cup looming, as it did last night for Luke Jacobson, Josh Ioane, Braydon Ennor and Sevu Reece, the thrill is magnified.

The quartet featured during the first real insight into the minds of the All Blacks selectors ahead of this year's Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Luke Jacobson scores a try for the Chiefs in the Tens final.

Luke Jacobson scores a try for the Chiefs. Photo: Photosport

Chosen for the team's opening two matches of the abbreviated 2019 Rugby Championship, the 39-strong squad will be trimmed to 34 for the second half of the competition.

Jacobson was the most unexpected of the uncapped players, but selector Grant Fox said they loved what they saw from the young Chiefs loose forward this year.

"He's a very good defender. We saw some great offloading skills against the Highlanders under the roof.

"He's also a good athlete, comfortable with the ball in hand, got a big engine, big broad shoulders and we want to get our hands on him and have a good look at him."

Someone the selectors won't see, though, is Liam Squire.

The 23-test loose forward, Highlanders team-mate Waisake Naholo and Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris were notable names to miss out.

Squire's injury issues have left him feeling not ready to return to international rugby and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said their conversation was pretty matter of fact.

"It went a bit like this. 'G'day Liam, how ya going'. He said 'good Steven, how are you' and I said 'not too bad'.

"He said 'mate, I don't think I'm ready to play international football'. We had a bit of a chat about that, which we won't repeat.

"At the end of it, we agreed and I said that's a pretty courageous conversation mate. So well done and let's get you back on the park and playing some footy and then we'll make a decision from there."

Another not featuring in the squad was veteran midfielder Ma'a Nonu.

Returning after a stint in France, the two-time World Cup winner had a strong season for the Blues.

Ma'a Nonu heads for the try line against the NSW Waratahs.

Ma'a Nonu heads for the try line against the NSW Waratahs. Photo: Photosport

Hansen said the 37-year-old was considered, but was simply part of a very strong group of midfielders.

"He's one of the great All Black legends and a tremendous player.

"He did everything he possibly could through the year and it's just unfortunate for him that we've got five other guys who have been very good, too.

"There may be an opportunity through injury for Ma'a and we'll talk him through that."

Someone whose Super Rugby form was rewarded was Brad Weber of the Chiefs.

After playing his lone test in 2015, assistant coach Ian Foster said Weber gave the selectors no choice but to pick him as their third halfback.

"It's pretty obvious to everyone that you know he's come in really motivated this year.

"He took on a lot of leadership in that Chiefs team after they lost a lot of their leaders and it brought the best out of him.

"He's gone away, worked hard on his core skills from the last two years and made it a real focus for him. He's really warranted a return into the black jersey and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does."

And if Hansen's objectives for their first two Rugby Championship matches are anything to go by, Weber's speed might just come in handy.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. Photo: Photosport

A winning rugby team, the coach insisted, is not all the All Blacks want to be.

"We want to start mastering the execution of our game. To do that, we're going to have to keep improving our skill sets and our decision making.

"Hopefully we can show some big improvements in our decision making under line speed, which is an area of our game that we believe that everyone's going to chuck at us.

"The better we get at it, the better of a result we're going to get."

The All Blacks assemble in Auckland today, before a four day camp next week ahead of departure for their season opener in Argentina on 21 July.