Appropriately, in the 75th anniversary year of the Rugby Almanack, present-day editors, Clive Akers and Geoff Miller, whether by accident or design, have revived what used to be a feature in the 1950s and 60s of the yearly review of the national game.
In those years the then editors, Arthur Carman, Arthur Swan and Read Masters, always picked their best playing XV of the season and almost without exception it was varied sharply with what the official All Black selection panel had chosen.
Often unknown players from smaller unions, or someone overlooked from even the major unions, found themselves placed in the Almanack XV ahead of the accepted super-stars. In the 1960s Frank Colthurst, who was one of the unluckiest players of that decade not to have become an All Black, was regularly chosen ahead of the test incumbents, Dennis Young and Bruce McLeod. And a Hawke's Bay centre, Harry Marett, another like Colthurst who never got beyond being a test reserve, was another Almanack favourite.
Carman, Swan and Masters were all cautious men, not the sort usually associated with left field thinking and none was a mainstream member of the media who almost by instinct tend to sensationalise. But such were the headlines their rather eccentric national XV selection choices caused you could almost think they had deliberately dissented from the real selectors to gain publicity.
Their successors as editors, Neville McMillan and Rod Chester, were more in line with official selections with their national XVs, and so too in recent years have been Akers and Miller. For instance, the Almanack's XV for 2008 pretty well mirrors to a man the judgements of Graham Henry and company.
But where Akers and Miller have invoked the old rebellious spirit is with their special jubilee selection of an All Black side between 1984 and 2008. This has involved some extraordinary decisions and, if by some miracle, the team could actually take the field might well have resulted in talkback radio switchboards exploding.
There are no places in either the playing XV or the seven reserves for such legends as Jonah Lomu, Tana Umaga, Grant Fox, Robin Brooke, Alan Whetton and Jerry Collins, though Fox, admittedly, is rated behind two other champion first fives in Daniel Carter and Andrew Mehrtens.
Lomu, though, is a victim of the editors' somewhat lateral thinking. For the trio named ahead of him were all right wings: John Kirwan, Jeff Wilson and Doug Howlett. Similarly, in the front row are two specialist tighthead props, Olo Brown and Carl Hayman, while the two flankers, Richie McCaw and Michael Jones, both came to fame on the openside even if the latter did end his test days on the blindside.
Some might be surprised, too, by the second five-eighths, where the steady Warwick Taylor is preferred ahead of arguably more brilliant players in John Schuster, Walter Little, Aaron Mauger and Luke McAlister.
To meet their hypothetical 1984-2008 All Blacks the editors have named a Visitors line-up of overseas internationals. That'll also cause a comment or two for among those to have missed out are Mark Ella, Hugo Porta, Jonny Wilkinson and Brian O'Driscoll. Indeed, of these 21 players only six come from the Northern Hemisphere and three of those are Frenchmen, which is probably an accurate assessment of how most New Zealanders, Sean Fitzpatrick notwithstanding, view British rugby. The Visitors, in perhaps an oversight, have not been given a loose forward reserve.
But even those of us who find the Almanack selections quirky will offer the publication some indulgence. Since started by Carman in 1935 it has provided New Zealand rugby in general, and in particular those who help record the game, with an invaluable service. It and the Rugby Museum in Palmerston North have also saved the New Zealand union an enormous task and expense in maintaining accurate archives.
So it's also appropriate that the recently retired curator of the museum, Bob Luxford, is paid by the latest almanack the tribute he thoroughly deserves.
Other features of the 2009 Almanack are the naming of the Five Players of the 2008 season: Mils Muliaina, Hosea Gear, David Holwell, Brad Thorn and Andrew Hore. Not many will argue with those choices and it's especially pleasing that Holwell and Thorn have been singled out.
Holwell, recently retired, has been a major contributor to the New Zealand game without quite becoming an All Black, and Thorn, in his remarkable switch from league, has been a consummate professional.
The almanack's five promising players are Auckland's Dean Budd, Canterbury's James Paterson and Colin Slade, Southland's Robbie Robinson and Taranaki's Jason Hayward.
The 1984-2008 team: Christian Cullen, John Kirwan, Frank Bunce, Jeff Wilson, Warwick Taylor, Daniel Carter, Justin Marshall, Wayne Shelford, Richie McCaw, Michael Jones, Ian Jones, Gary Whetton, Carl Hayman, Sean Fitzpatrick, Olo Brown. Reserves: Andy Dalton, Steve McDowell, Ali Williams, Zinzan Brooke, Graeme Bachop, Andrew Mehrtens, Doug Howlett.
Its opposition: Matthew Burke, Philippe Saint-Andre, Philippe Sella, Tim Horan, David Campese, Jonathon Davies, Nick Farr-Jones, Toutai Kefu, Laurent Cabannes, John Eales, Mark Andrews, Simon Poidevein, Enrique Rodriguez, Phil Kearns, Jason Leonard. Reserves: John Smit, Os du Randt, Martin Johnson, George Gregan, Stephen Larkham, Andrew Slack.
The almanack's 2008 team: Muliaina, Richard Kahui, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Rodney So'oialo, Jerome Kaino, Williams, Thorn, Greg Somerville, Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu , Neemia Tialata, Anthony Boric, Kieran Read, Piri Weepu, Stephen Donald, Isaia Toeava.