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 All Black Contender and Pretenders

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Pantherus
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PostSubject: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeTue Apr 21, 2009 8:04 am

Marc Hinton - Stuff.co.nz

Six weeks out from decision time there must be an air of contentment among the travelling triumvirate that are the All Blacks selectors.

Four form teams, the other boxing above its weight and even the injuries, touch wood, appear to be falling at the right place.

There's probably no such thing as a fully contented All Black coach - there is after all always something to worry about - but by and large you have to figure that with a month to go in the Super 14 round-robin, tea and bikkies time at the selectors' meetings must be a barrel of laughs.

From what I can work out, sifting through the in-form and the infirm, the selectors are pretty well placed wherever they look, save for tighthead prop and possibly depth at No 10.

The looming decision on Luke McAlister's eligibility - the selectors want him in the mix, the NZRU must decide whether to break their own rule - is potentially decisive, with the returning utility solving two problems at once with his ability to slot in at 10 or 12.

But all things considered it ain't the worst position to be in for Father Ted and co. Especially given the serious exodus of talent that departed these shores after the last World Cup. That's a testament to the talent production line that is New Zealand rugby, and also to the work done since by the NZRU in retaining our best players.

So, a month out from finals time in the Super 14 let's look at the contenders and pretenders when it comes to All Black selection. Let's see just how well off the three wise men really are.

Fullback presents an embarrassment of riches really, especially with Leon MacDonald looking like he's back in form for the Crusaders. Let's face it, Mils Muliaina, at the back of a Chiefs backline firing on all cylinders, is a lay-down for No 15, but in terms of backup there's also Cory Jane at the Canes and a new face in impressive young Highlander Israel Dagg. Even Paul Williams of the Blues would not disgrace a squad callup.

The big question here is whether they'll keep MacDonald on, with all the attendant issues over his head problems, or cut the cord and give someone like Jane a chance to spend some prolonged time in the environment. I'd suggest the latter, especially with Muliaina mulling a departure.

Wing hasn't always been a comfort zone of late, but, injury permitting, it is now. The incumbents are Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu, but breathing down their necks you now have Lelia Masaga of the Chiefs, Hosea Gear of the Canes, Rudi Wulf of the Blues and maybe even utility Anthony Tuitavake who tends to play well wherever you put him.

Hurricane pocket-rocket David Smith is also an X-factor sort of character who is worth keeping an eye on.

The slow-starting Rokocoko and deceptively brilliant Sivivatu will take some nudging, but if Masaga gets back on the field for the business end you've got to figure he's worthy of a look.

Injuries are the only concern here. Sivivatu, Masaga and Gear have all been out of action recently, though it looks like the Chiefs pair, at least, will be back for the pointy end of the competition.

Centre presents all sorts of options, but essentially comes down to a straight tossup between two players of immense quality, Hurricane Conrad Smith and Chief Richard Kahui. Take your pick, with Tuitavake floating around as cover.

The five-eighths are where the depth issues kick in, though a nice run of form by Isaia Toeava at the Blues addresses part of the potential problem. If McAlister's available - and we'll know on Wednesday - he solves the problem, otherwise it's Stephen Donald, Ma'a Nonu and Toeava, with Piri Weepu next cab off the rank at No 10.

Of the other No 10s around, none shape as test material yet, so you have to think that until Dan Carter comes back Donald, Weepu and maybe McAlister will fill the void.

Even here it's far from doom and gloom. Toeava has thrived at 12 for the Blues, and now presents as a legitimate backup for Nonu. Donald has also been getting better and better for a Chiefs outfit growing in confidence. Weepu is a conundrum, simply because we've seen so little of him at halfback, but he's played well enough at 10 to suggest he'll be in the mix somewhere.

Halfback is a ripper battle, with Brendon Leonard playing splendidly for the Chiefs till his chest injury, Jimmy Cowan (the incumbent) shaking off a slow start to find some form in the south and Andy Ellis also picking his game up for the Crusaders.

Factor in Weepu, who is still a test-quality halfback first and foremost, his team-mate Alby Mathewson and strapping Blues No 9 Taniela Moa and you have a position rich in options.

The same goes for the loose forwards where skipper Richie McCaw, Rodney So'oialo and Jerome Kaino are the incumbents. Of that trio only Kaino could be perceived to be under any sort of pressure.

But the next group is a cracking lineup featuring Liam Messam, Adam Thomson Kieran Read, Sione Lauaki and Josh Blackie, with the Waldrom brothers also sniffing about. They can't all get in and it will be another big call on who misses out.

The second row has seen one big mover, a couple of the incumbents confirm their class, a certainty spend most of the Super 14 on the sidelines and one or two others raise their hands.

Crusader Isaac Ross has had a fabulous Super 14 and must now come into contention, while Anthony Boric (Blues) and Brad Thorn (Crusaders) continue to show their class. Ali Williams should be fresh for the test season, after seeing sporadic action only for the Blues through the first 10 weeks, while others such as Kevin O'Neill and Craig Clarke at the Chiefs, Tom Donnelly at the Highlanders, and Jason Eaton at the Canes have also had their moments.

Up front tighthead prop shapes as the one area of concern. John Afoa was playing well for the Blues till his ankle injury, while brutish Highlander Clint Newland was arguably the best of the rest, with Neemia Tialata, favoured in recent times, yet to produce his best.

Hooker will see Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu automatic selections, while at loosehead Tony Woodcock, now back for the Blues, is without peer. Jamie Mackintosh has also been impressive on that side, while Crusader Wyatt Crockett remains an honest toiler. Ben Franks' long-term injury has kept him out of the picture.

One final comment: even some of the injuries seem to be working out well for the three wise men.

McCaw has had a decent old break through the first half of the Super 14 thanks to his ankle problems, likewise Ali Williams with his tender Achilles tendon and Woodcock with his mystery viral infection. All three are workhorses at test time and can probably do with any time off they can get.

How's this, then, for a form All Blacks team? (Presuming, of course, that everyone's fit, and with the proviso that a firing Williams would nudge Ross out. Note, the calls are tight at Nos 14, 13, 6 and 2.)

15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard; 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock
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Pantherus
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeTue Apr 21, 2009 8:07 am

My comment on the article:

Some very tough calls around the place - but some positions which are all but automatic now are still being argued.
1. Woodcock - no question, done.
2. Hore - Only Hore and Mealamu have the class currently to step up, and in just 2 games back Hore has shown some great field play, and his lineouts will improve over time.
3. Tiala - very contentious here, but granted due to lack of real opposition (Afoa is very overrate and all the other decent props are tightheads and so behind Woodcock) and that Tialata is a classic example of a player who steps up come test time.
4. Thorn - a lot of competition here but Brad's done enough to hold this spot...for now...
5. Williams - how can you leave him out???
6. Messam - VERY contentious spot; Messam is a matter of balance, a solid ranger and ball carrier is needed, and Kaino's dropped well off the pace.
7. McCaw - duh...
8. So'oialo - nobody, bar nobody, has shown any real quality at 8 bar So'oialo who has been a cracker of consistency.
9. Cowan - another very contentious spot, I agree that Leonard goes missing at the breakdowns and is very greedy with the ball. If Donald gets the nod at 10 then their partnership may give advantage to Leonard though.
10. Donald - it's a case of the best of what's left. As a Donald-hater, I have to admit that he's stepped up rather well in recent weeks; though the likes of Giteau and Pienaar are going to have a field day against him.
11. Sivivatu - he's certainly done enough to hold his spot.
12. Nonu - his form has been improving more and more and his game has improved out of site.
13. Smith - anyone really watching all the Canes and Chiefs games with both eyes open should see that Smith has thoroughly out-performed Kahui now. Whilst Kahui has had moments of brilliance mixed with general mediocrity and invisibility, Smith has been consistent and has even shown some flair that he's lacked in the past and caused him to be overlooked by the armchair selectors.
14. Rokocoko - sorry, but Masaga is not there yet. Give him time with the Juniors and see how he goes from there. Gear has dropped WELL off the pace. Tuitavake is the only other option IMO.
15. Muliaina - another no-brainer. Picking the next best is much tougher, Jane is starting to show some of his original brilliance - but Toeava should get through (and rightly imo).

Bench:
Mealamu
Afoa/Mackintosh
Ross/Eaton (Boric is overrated)
Read/Thomson (pick one - they're both great)
Weepu (top-drawer 9/10 cover)
Kahui
Toeava
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Hendo Maroon
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeTue Apr 21, 2009 8:19 am

If think we have to think it's definitely time to start building a first XV for the next WC so we don't fall into the same trap as last time. IMO we should stick with a similar squad to what we had last year.

My side would be:

1. Woodcock
2. Mealamu
3. Tialata
4. Thorn
5. Williams
6. Thompson
7. McCaw
8. So'oialo
9. Cowan
10. Donald
11. Sivivatu
12. Nonu
13. Smith
14. Rokocoko
15. Muliaina

16. Hore
17. Macintosh
18. Boric
19. Kaino
20. Weepu
21. Toeava
22. Masaga

Building up these guys is key. Majority has test experience and all performed well last season, as a result we won the Tri-nations, Bledisloe and Grand Slam. If we keep with this side by the time the WC rolls around they will be unbeatable Very Happy as they will have plenty of match experience together.

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Hendo Maroon
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeTue Apr 21, 2009 8:19 am

Wow, seems like we have very similar sides their P'Rus. Great minds.

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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeTue Apr 21, 2009 8:21 am

Leonard > Weepu, Cowan
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Hendo Maroon
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeTue Apr 21, 2009 8:22 am

SBW wrote:
Leonard > Weepu, Cowan

Hahaha Laughing
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeTue Apr 21, 2009 8:30 am

Fact.
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Hendo Maroon
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeTue Apr 21, 2009 8:33 am

No way, he is over-rated. The modern day Half Back needs both a good running and kicking game, Leonard has a good running game, but not kicking whereas Weepu and Cowan have both.

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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeTue Apr 21, 2009 9:37 am

1. Woodcock
2. Hore
3. Tialata
4. Thorn
5. Williams
6. Thompson
7. McCaw
8. So'oialo
9. Weepu
10. Donald
11. Sivivatu
12. Nonu
13. Smith
14. Rokocoko
15. Muliaina

16. Mealamu
17. Macintosh
18. Boric
19. Kaino
20. Cowan
21. Kahui
22. Masaga

Pretty much the same as hendo, but id really like too see Bowden at 10 hes in top form!
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Pantherus
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeTue Apr 21, 2009 11:51 pm

Bowden needs more time to grow - don't throw him into the mix too soon.

There are still a couple of years for players to push their way into the squad, but I agree with Hendo that the bulk of the WC squad will be made up of current test players. Certain combinations (loosies, midfield, and inside backs in particular) will need to be set. Nonu and Smith should hopefully maintain their partnership right through until then, Richie and Rodney just need to find the final piece to their puzzle since Jerry left, but the inside backs still need some stability.

Oh, and SBW - Leonard = crap. He always has been, and always will be. He is yet another classic example of the player who performs well at Super level but goes missing in tests - he's an impact test player at best. Cowan and Weepu are genuine internationals though; Cowan shades Weepu with superior defence and running, plus Weepu is stronger as an impact player off the bench.
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mania
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeWed Apr 22, 2009 6:17 am

how bout DeMalmanche and McGoughin? They playing well.

On the loosie front have to say that Josh Blackie deserves to cover the loosies on the bench. He's a 6 with the instincts of a 7, and he's no where near his level he was when he left but is getting better every game

dunno bout Tialata not certain that he brings his brain to every game

dump boric and bring in isaacRoss
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Pantherus
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeWed Apr 22, 2009 6:50 am

Ridiculous the number of people commenting in the stuff section that So'oialo should go...
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeWed Apr 22, 2009 7:38 am

the etam i would pick if i were SELECTOR but im not so we wont see this line up any time soon.

1. Woodcock
2. Hore
3. MacKintosh
4. Thorn
5. Williams
6. Thomson
7. McCaw
8. So'oialo
9. Cowan
10. Weepu
11. Rokocoko
12. Nonu
13. Kahui
14. Masaga
15. Muliana

16. Afoa
17. Elliott
18. Eaton
19. Kaino
20. Leonard
21. Toeava
22. Tuitavake

Others in 30 man squad :
Tialata
Boric
Read
Soakai
Donald
Laulala
Sivivatu
Dagg
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samthaman15
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeWed Apr 22, 2009 9:11 am

Thats a good squad kk, Dagg will definately be in there soon and If Laulala didnt get injured and continued the form he showed early on he would of been pushing for a starting place IMO
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeWed Apr 22, 2009 9:51 am

mania wrote:

On the loosie front have to say that Josh Blackie deserves to cover the loosies on the bench. He's a 6 with the instincts of a 7, and he's no where near his level he was when he left but is getting better every game

Yep, agree on that front, he's a big unit too. Bigger than McCaw so could easily cope with the physical demands of 6.

Blackie definitely has pedigree at 7 though and for the first time since Holah left, I would be comfortable with our chances at the breakdown if McCaw got injured
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Pantherus
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeWed Apr 22, 2009 11:56 am

Leaving Smith out completely KK? Sorry man, he's been out-performing Kahui all year so far. Plus the combination he has with Nonu gives them both an advantage as together they are worth more than the sum of their parts.

And you'll never have Woodcock and Mackintosh playing together cause they're both specialist Looseheads. Mackintosh would have to convert to tighthead which is no mean feat. One of the reason's Tialata has stuck around so much is he can quite capably play both tight and loosehead so is very valuable as a reserve - just like Masoe was in the loosies.

Weepu at 10 would be a major gamble and I still think Donald is the most likely option they'll take (assuming McAllister is left to play NPC first (which I think he should)).

Plus Masaga ahead of Sivivatu is a very big call...

Young guys should NOT be thrust into the starting lineup (assuming injury doesn't force their inclusion) until they are properly blooded against weaker opponents. So guys like Mackintosh and Masaga can have a hit out against the likes of Italy.
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kiwikid33
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeThu Apr 23, 2009 10:48 pm

i always get confused with props lol

I guess i would start with woodcock and afoa then and have Big Mac on the bench.

I havent been impressed by smith this year and thought kahui was going better but you may be right or you may be a one eyed cane Wink
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Pantherus
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeThu Apr 23, 2009 11:59 pm

lol - time will tell
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeFri Apr 24, 2009 12:03 am

LOL kk how can you not have Smith there? He has been playing awesome.
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mania
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeFri Apr 24, 2009 12:32 am

haha, d4m one eyed canes supporters!!!....go the Canes!!!

ok Kahui's a great atheletic specimen and has all the potential to be the incumbant 13,...one day. but he tends to disapear every now and again and that leads me to question his work load. he puts in some big hits but doesnt think a couple of moves ahead after that hit. when kahui has the ball in hand he's great, runs good lines, has speed strength and power. physically he's light years ahead of smith

however, what mccaw is to the forwards smith is in the backline. he makes plays with out the ball in hand, eg tackling and then getting to his feet and turing it over. and when we play teams like ENG and the Boks who can starve a team of possesion then u need players who can make things happen with out the ball. smith has better brains(tho kahui is no dummy) and reflexes. he has that typical canes xFactor as well as a level head (not so typical in the canes)

did i also mention GO THE CANES!!!!
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Pantherus
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PostSubject: Re: All Black Contender and Pretenders   All Black Contender and Pretenders Icon_minitimeFri Apr 24, 2009 12:53 am

Agree with you there mania. I reckon they'll experiement a few things with the Iveco series and we should have a strong team come 3N time.
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