The All Blacks start the 2019 International rugby season as distinct favourites for both the Rugby Championship and the Rugby World Cup.
After another Super Rugby campaign dominated by the New Zealand sides led by the imposing Crusaders and few would bet against them winning a fourth successive Championship.
The Rugby Championship concern for the All Blacks will be ensuring that their stars and the rest of the squad for that matter, stay fit ahead of what will be a competitive World Cup.
To that end, the All Blacks will rest all 11 Crusaders players selected in their squad for their opening game of an abbreviated Championship against Argentina in Buenos Aires. The Pumas, on the other hand, are unlikely to afford a similar break to Jaguares players who form the bulk of their squad.
Controversial selections and All Blacks coach comments
Sevu Reece’s selection has divided opinion in New Zealand and the wider rugby world for two reasons. The first of those is that he is Fijian and while the All Blacks have long raided the Pacific Islands of their magnificent rugby talents, there are some for whom this doesn’t sit well. The second issue is that Reece injured his partner in a drunken assault last year.
Defending the selection of Reece, Hansen said: “It’s a big part of our society unfortunately.
“So rugby is going to have people within its community that are involved in this.
“And having been a policeman, I’ve seen plenty of it. And I know it’s not just restricted to males assaulting women, women assault males too.
“It’s not a gender thing, it’s a New Zealand problem.”
Hansen has since clarified his statements which came off as minimizing the damage domestic violence does to women and children who are the victims in the majority of cases, but stood by his support of Reece, whom he felt needed support.
Reece is clearly a phenomenal rugby player as to what kind of human being he is, it would be unfair to speculate.
On the matter of “Island pillaging”, it is clear that if New Zealand didn’t raid the islands for their talent someone else would. Japanese Rugby actively scouts young Tongan players and Northern Hemisphere clubs will sign players from anywhere they see fit.
Reece stands to earn five times more in camp for the All Blacks as he would if he linked up with Fiji, so it is hard to blame him or anyone else for whom rugby can provide a better life.
Reece, Highlanders flyhalf Josh Ioane, Chiefs loose forward Luke Jacobson and Crusaders outside back Braydon Ennor are the four players making their first appearance in an All Blacks squad.
Ennor and Reece impressed as part of the Crusaders dangerous outside backs in the victorious Super Rugby campaign.
Ioane showed a great deal of promise but there might be a few concerns about his ability to step up to Test rugby. The Highlanders pivot has impressed his teammates and coaches in the training camp, though and has been tipped for progression for some time.
Jacobsen is a former All Blacks under-20 skipper and another who has been on the radar for a while so none of their new blood are fad picks. Chiefs Prop Atu Moli has also yet to be capped at Test level but he has previously been called into the squad.
The old guard
Liam Squire refused an All Black call-up citing personal and physical issues but the squad is still packed with experienced world-beaters.
Three All Black forwards, Owen Franks, Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock have over 100 caps. The All Blacks 39-man Rugby Championship squad includes eleven players, including the three centurions, who have played more than 50 Test matches.
At Halfback the All Blacks experience and quality is evident and Beaudan Barrett can expect top-notch service from both Aaron Smith and Hurricanes teammate TJ Perenara. The second alternate for the scrumhalf position, Brad Weber, has just one cap to his name but the 28-year-old has been around the block a few times.
Skipper Read is the most-capped player in the squad with an incredible 118 Tests to his name.
All Blacks weaknesses
Well this is awkward – 404 error, page not found! If we are stretching Sonny Bill Williams hasn’t quite been at his best leaving the All Blacks relient on young Crusaders centre Jack Goodhue. Goodhue has had an excellent Super Rugby season even if his previous style choices have come in for some stick. Don’t listen to the haters Jack, your mullet was sweet.
In general, teams that have beaten the All Blacks have attacked the blindside well. The Wallabies are likely to be the team who exercise this tactic the most while the Pumas and Springboks could rely on forward play and trying to control the game. The problem with that is that the All Blacks have a very good set of forwards, who are more than capable of competing up front.
The All Blacks blindside weakness is well known and has been exploited by Ireland, Australia, the Springboks and the British and Irish Lions. Having that knowledge and putting it to good use are two totally different things though and for all three of their opponents limiting the number of unforced errors will be critical.
Rugby Championship squad
Forwards: Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Liam Coltman, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Jackson Nempop, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Shannon Frizell, Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papalii, Kieran Read, Ardie Savea, Matt Todd.
Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Josh Ioane, Richie Mo’unga, Jack Goodhue, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Braydon Ennor, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece, Ben Smith.
2019 Rugby Championship fixtures
Saturday 20 July 17:05 South Africa vs Australia Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Saturday 20 July 20:05 Argentina vs New Zealand Estadio José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires
Saturday 27 July 09:35 New Zealand vs South Africa Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Saturday 27 July 11:45 Australia vs Argentina Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Saturday 10 August 11:45 Australia vs New Zealand Optus Stadium, Perth
Saturday 10 August 21:40 Argentina vs South Africa Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta