Lowe the lone new All Black?

Date published: April 22 2015

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World Cup squads must be named by September 7 but if they were chosen tomorrow, here are the 31 players we believe the holders will pick.

We've heard more than a few whispers that based on Super Rugby form, stalwarts such as Dan Carter and Richie McCaw shouldn't be selected in their XV. But these are World Cups we are talking about and when it comes to the crunch, rest assured someone like McCaw will be invaluable so it is actually laughable to think that he could miss out on the side with so much rugby still to play leading up to 2015's tournament. 

Carter, on the other hand, we are not so sure as if the World Cup was now and Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett were fit, he might miss the 23 as his performances have not been up to his rivals' standard in Super Rugby. Not playing at number ten also surely doesn't help his chances.

But, having the fly-half's experience in the travelling 31 alongside McCaw will be priceless, particularly now that Cruden is a major doubt. Furthermore, he boasts the strongest defence of all of New Zealand's pivots so far this season. The same can't be said for his goal-kicking that needs work as a certain Highlander is flying in that regard and in 'defenders beaten', as he continues to shine alongside Aaron Smith.

Remarkably, when compiling this likely squad that Steve Hansen may settle on, a list reached 25 names of players not in our 31 who could be adequate walk-ins for New Zealand. That must be a pleasing for the selectors, particularly after scrambling to find Stephen Donald in 2011.

Yes speaking of pivot, the injury to Cruden has possibly opened the door to one of the form fly-halves in Super Rugby, Lima Sopoaga, who is set to fight it out with Colin Slade for the third spot outside Barrett and Carter. Fortunately for Slade's case he can also play full-back.

There lies a priceless commodity in a player, versatility, and why James Lowe, Ben Smith and Cory Jane and Barrett are much more likely to make a 23 than a one-position man. It is partly for that reason we've gone for Steven Luatua over Jordan Taufua as he can cover the second row as well as blindside. That would allow head coach Hansen to select one less lock and thus give himself greater options in his back row.

We must again stress we have not selected a form 31 but more so this is Hansen's likely squad that will be on the plane heading to Heathrow. Factor in that selector Grant Fox revealed on Tuesday that "we haven't got much time" and one gets the sense there won't be drastic changes. 

If there were uncapped players called then someone like flank Taufua would surely be involved while Nehe Milner-Skudder is also an outside bet after the duo's blistering season starts. Brad Weber has impressed but is still some distance off the two nines we think they will take.

Leaving the country following the World Cup will come into play and despite reported efforts to get him out of his Clermont contract, wing Waisake Naholo's hopes are reduced due to that impending move. Charles Piutau meanwhile has possibly burned his bridges after his surprise transfer to Ulster, which has opened the door for wing or full-back Lowe. He is looking more and more like an All Black as the rounds go by.

The centres pick themselves, with Ryan Crotty unfortunate to miss out, and the same goes for Hansen's lock options, where it's possible he'll select just three players, with Luatua's versatility and familiarity in the group a leg-up. Sam Cane is set to stay ahead of Matt Todd and Ardie Savea in the openside pecking order.

Up front, the All Blacks' five props are more or less certainties while unlike for last year's Rugby Championship, it seems likely they will go with a third hooker, where we think Hika Elliot currently has the edge on Liam Coltman. Hansen's fingers will be crossed on Dane Coles' fitness.

So there we have it; 31 names that are likely to be pencilled on Hansen's list at the moment. But with form and injuries set to continue to turn the cogs in the selectors' thinking, who is to say whether our standby 25 we've listed at the foot of this article may yet get a call.

Hansen's likely 31-man squad for the World Cup

Backs (14)

Full-back: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith
Wing: Julian Savea, James Lowe, Cory Jane
Centre: Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Conrad Smith, Malakai Fekitoa
Fly-half: Beauden Barrett, Dan Carter, Colin Slade
Scrum-half: Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara

Forwards (17)

Back-row: Steven Luatua, Liam Messam, Richie McCaw, Sam Cane, Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino
Second-row: Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Patrick Tuipulotu
Hooker: Dane Coles, Keven Mealamu, Hika Elliot
Prop: Tony Woodcock, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Charlie Faumuina

25 players on standby: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Jordan Taufua, Liam Coltman, Charles Piutau, Brad Weber, Matt Todd, Ardie Savea, James Broadhurst, Victor Vito, Lima Sopoaga, Andy Ellis, Luke Romano, Ryan Crotty, Elliot Dixon, Augustine Pulu, Brad Shields, Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Liam Squire, Ben Tameifuna, Dominic Bird, Damian McKenzie, Jeremy Thrush, Tom Taylor.

By Adam Kyriacou

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