All Blacks: Jarrad Hoeata Only New Face in Predictable Tri-Nations Squad
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Thirty players and four injury-cover reserves have been named in the All Blacks squad for the upcoming Tri-Nations and test against Fiji. Jarrad Hoeata was the only non-capped player named in the squad, as the selectors took a very predictable squad of players who had been tried and succeeded in the past.
Despite this, no one could argue Hoeata's inclusion in the 30, on the back of a breakout season with the Highlanders where he was one of Super Rugby's form locks.
Other locks include Brad Thorn, Sam Whitelock and Ali Williams. Williams makes his return to the All Blacks two years after last playing for them before suffering multiple Achilles injuries. Despite a slow start, his form has picked up over recent weeks and his selection in the team is justified, particularly given the injury to Anthony Boric which saw him not considered for selection.
The props remain unchanged from last year, with Ben and Owen Franks being chosen along with John Afoa and Tony Woodcock. This leaves Wyatt Crockett, who has arguably been the best of all of these men in 2011 and can consider himself very unlucky not to make it. He was named as one of the four injury-cover players though and will no doubt get a chance to show his worth.
Woodcock's selection is questionable, given the fact that he has been injured and won't be available for the first part of the Tri-Nations. And besides, his form over the past few years has dropped and offers a lot less than Crockett around the field.
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Afoa can play both sides of the scrum and gets in off the back of a good season with the Blues, while their was never any doubt that the two Franks brothers would be chosen.
Keven Mealamu was a no-brainer at hooker, and he is joined by Andrew Hore and Corey Flynn, who narrowly edge out Hika Elliot. Hore's lack of form this year makes his selection questionable, but his experience will be invaluable. Corey Flynn has had a stellar year with a very good Crusaders team and while Elliot will feel unlucky, it's hard to argue against Flynn being there.
The loose forwards were a highly talked area pre-selection. While Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino were always going to be named, with Adam Thomson a highly likely selection, the question remained whether the selectors would go for a specialist openside flanker with their fifth loose forward, or whether they would use Thomson.
And today these questions were answered as Liam Messam was rewarded for a very good Super 15. The reasoning given was that Thomson, Messam and Read are all capable of playing openside. Although Henry did mention that they hadn't completely ruled out taking a specialist to the World Cup.
Youngster Matt Todd will feel unlucky, but the common theme in the team was to go with experience and what has been tried, something that Todd doesn't have and it seems late to bring a new player in when unsure as to how they will perform at the highest level.
Richie McCaw was once again named as captain.
As predicted, Jimmy Cowan, Piri Weepu and Andy Ellis fill the three halfback spots.
The next big talking point was who would back up Daniel Carter at first five-eighth. After starting the season with a number of contenders, it seemed to be down to just Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden come selection time.
Slade got the nod, on the back of an injury interrupted Super 15 which could see him struggle at first. He brings little experience to the table, with just one test as a replacement which came against Australia last year, but a very solid performance there should provide the selectors confidence that he will perform again.
The midfield also went as predicted, with Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui all being picked once again. The question here remains: Who will be used as the starting midfield pairing?
The five outside back positions were filled by Mils Muliaina, Hosea Gear, Zac Guilford, Isaia Toeava and Israel Dagg.
Muliaina was a shoe-in, while it was widely assumed Gear and Toeava would be chosen too. However who would fill the last two spots was uncertain. Zac Guilford has been one of the form wingers, but the selectors have passed up on him in the past, which suggested they may do the same again.
Sean Maitland, Cory Jane and Sitiveni Sivivatu had all been talked up as genuine possibilities to fill the spot. But it's hard to say that Guilford doesn't deserve it, after a very good Super 15 with the Crusaders.
Israel Dagg came as a surprise to many, much in the same way Tony Woodcock did, suffering from an injury sustained halfway through the Super 15 that will see him miss a fair chunk of the Tri-Nations. There is no doubt he deserves to be there, if he is fit. But it seems strange naming a player who is injured.
And indeed, it seemed that the selectors may have had some uncertainty themselves, naming Cory Jane, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Ben Smith as injury-cover replacements.
While all the players named deserve their positions, there will be many who feel very unlucky not to make it, such is the depth of New Zealand rugby at the moment.
Overall it looks like a very good team. They have gone largely for players who have been in the mix over the past few years, while also rewarding good form amongst that group.
From last year we see Joe Rokocoko left out, a truly great player in his day, but has struggled for form recently and was living on reputation for the last two years. This will allow another more dangerous player to come in on this wing in Guilford and Toeava, which will make the All Blacks even more threatening.
Tom Donnelly also falls out of favour after an average Super 15, where he struggled to crack the starting line up for the Highlanders.
Other than this though, the team remains largely unchanged and will want to carry their form from last year through to the World Cup.
Keep in mind that this is only the team for the Tri Nations and the World Cup squad won't be named for another two months. But it's a fair bet that the 28 men named in the World Cup team will come from the 34 named today, meaning the coming weeks will be critical in rekindling the combinations that made them so deadly in 2010.
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