An optimist's take on the All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad

6:51 pm on 28 August 2019

Opinion - There's plenty to like about this World Cup squad.

The All Blacks selectors from left to right: Assistant coach Ian Foster, head coach Steve Hansen and selector Grant Fox.

The All Blacks selectors from left to right: Assistant coach Ian Foster, head coach Steve Hansen and selector Grant Fox. Photo: RNZ / Leilani Momoisea

It was telling that the majority of questions today launched at Steve Hansen weren't about the players who were in his 31-man World Cup squad, rather the ones that weren't. Yes, the dropping of Owen Franks is a bit of a shock.

The explanation around just whether Liam Squire is keen to play was confusing at best, and you have to feel that Ngani Laumape couldn't really have done much more to push an ultimately fruitless case.

But today, in the suitably darkened changing rooms of Eden Park, we got to finally confirm the men that will head to Japan in just under a fortnight's time to defend the World Cup.

READ MORE: A pessimist's take on the All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad

All Black jerseys adorned the deep cubicles that the players sat in after the last time they played, content to sip from the Bledisloe Cup and look forward to whether they'd hear their name read for the trip to Japan. The surroundings were a lot more low key than the last World Cup squad naming four years ago.

That took place at Parliament and had the patronage of the then-Prime Minister.

Jacinda Ardern was admittedly on hand two Saturdays ago to hand over the Bledisloe Cup, but clearly NZ Rugby decided that an official government touch wasn't required this time around.

Even though in the end, the squad was pretty predictable, this was the most anticipation for a team naming in quite a while. As the names were read out, we waited as it went Read, Retallick, Savea, Smith, Smith ... then Ta'avao. There was a bit of a gasp.

Liam Squire

Liam Squire Photo: Photosport

Squire isn't going after all, despite reports to the contrary earlier in the week and some stunning form for Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup. Hansen clarified that Squire is keen, but will only be used as a replacement if needed, so there's a story there but one that we're unlikely to get to the bottom of for a while yet probably.

Mobility was the key in Franks' exclusion, which means that the long-standing joke about him never scoring a try in an All Black jersey is actually now an accurate reflection on why he's on the outer. Joe Moody, who came out of nowhere to play a big role in the last World Cup campaign, now finds himself the most experienced prop with 40 caps.

Speaking of experience, there's the case of Luke Jacobson.

The Chiefs man has timed his run pretty much perfectly, shining in Super Rugby and doing more than Vaea Fifita and Shannon Frizell during the Rugby Championship. It's highly likely that Ardie Savea and Sam Cane will start at flanker for the big games, but Jacobson will probably end up with a decent workload by the end of the tournament.

Laumape is the unlucky one, but really injury was going to be the only thing keeping Sonny Bill Williams out of the team.

The last Bledisloe Cup game showed just how important he is for the All Blacks' game-plan, plus Ryan Crotty providing Hansen's backup plan means there's no place for the former Warrior. He can look forward to the next one, though, because neither Williams nor Crotty will be in his way in four years' time.

The Barrett brothers Jordie, Scott and Beauden will again lineup in the All Blacks starting fifteen.

The Barrett brothers Jordie, Scott and Beauden. Photo: Photosport

The three Barrett brothers will play their part in the campaign, with Jordie confirmed as a potential emergency replacement at first five.

More likely, he's there to send over any crucial goals that are out of Beauden's or Richie Mo'unga's range when things start to get tight.

George Bridge and Sevu Reece are the double excitement package out wide.

Remember, four years ago Nehe Milner-Skudder was just some guy who had played a bit of league for the Bulldogs at the start of the Super Rugby season, then went on to score a try in the World Cup final. While both Bridge and Reece came into 2019 with slightly more established reputations, it would be some tale if either of them cemented themselves as All Black strike weapons by the end of the tournament.

So there it is, Aotearoa. The squad that will carry our hopes across the Pacific and hopefully return with the World Cup. All the conjecture can stop now, as we await the first whistle in Yokohama.

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