A curmudgeon's Rugby World Cup diary: Week seven

11:48 am on 27 August 2019

Don't know about you, but I tapped out at 21.

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The All Blacks Rugby World Cup puzzle. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

You assume it'll be New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey who's rolled out on Wednesday to announce the 31 men who'll go to Japan for the Rugby World Cup, but I fell 10 players short.

With the best will in the world, there really are only 21 blokes who deserve to be All Blacks this year. Everyone else is either there on past deeds or promise.

Starting at the back

So much for two fullbacks in the back-three; this time around we're about to have none.

Cory Jane, Israel Dagg or Ben Smith never liked playing wing. But All Blacks coach Steve Hansen set his stall on the ploy, right up until Smith started getting so badly exposed this season.

Looking at it now, Beauden Barrett, Sevu Reece and George Bridge - none of whom are specialist fullbacks - are going to go to Japan and then it's a lolly scramble.

I still like David Havili but assume Smith, Rieko Ioane and Jordie Barrett will end up on Impey's list.


No-one's going to argue about Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown.

We all know Sonny Bill Williams will get picked, despite concerns over his durability and lack of rugby. The same questions hang over Ryan Crotty, but it seems safe to assume he's going too.

Ngani Laumape's chances might depend on who's culled elsewhere.


Richie Mo'unga seems to have 10 sewn up, with Beauden Barrett as back-up, then Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara and Brad Weber will be the halfbacks.

Do you need to carry Josh Ioane as first five-eighth cover? Probably not.


Kieran Read, Sam Cane and Ardie Savea are going and everyone else is a punt.


Fingers crossed Brodie Retallick will be right for the business end of the tournament. Until then Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett and Patrick Tuipulotu will do a more than adequate job.


Apparently they're taking five: two tightheads, two looseheads and a bloke to do a bit of both.

Angus Ta'avao deserves to be on of the tightheads, while Nepo Laulala is coming off an excellent Bledisloe Cup appearance. If they both go, that doesn't leave room for Owen Franks.

Hard to see Hansen dispensing with him, though.

On the other side there's Joe Moody and no-one. I'd still have Karl Tu'inukuafe as his back-up, but Atu Moli and Ofa Tuungafasi appear to have gone past him.

If you took Tu'inukuafe then Tuungafasi, who was a tighthead in Super Rugby this year, would be your guy who covers both sides.


Dane Coles and Codie Taylor pick themselves. I'd take Asafo Aumua as the third-stringer, but most people seem sold on Liam Coltman. We'll see.


World cups tend to be pretty attritional affairs. You rarely romp to the title so hard, dependable types are often preferred by selectors.

The problem for New Zealand is players they might have depended on, such as Ben Smith, Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett and Owen Franks come into this campaign battling for form or fitness.

Captain Kieran Read had some good moments in the 36-0 win over Australia, but has hardly been playing the house down either.

Everyone who ascends to Test level is a good footballer. The best players are those who know how to prepare well and manage their emotions, the ones who've worked out how to execute their skills under pressure.

The All Blacks will boast a squad full of world cup and Super Rugby champions, guys who've shown they can deliver when it counts. But there's a very fine line between being seasoned and past it, and Hansen is going to have to tread that very carefully.

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