Razor watch: Seven All Blacks hopefuls pushing for selection, including a matured back-row and the new Christian Cullen

Dylan Coetzee
Split with Blues star Hoskins Sotutu, Chief Cortez Ratima and Hurricane Ruben Love.

Split with Blues star Hoskins Sotutu, Chief Cortez Ratima and Hurricane Ruben Love.

The beginning of the Scott Robertson era for the All Blacks is soon to begin with an intriguing two-Test series against England in the mid-year window.

Robertson’s transition to the All Blacks has been highly-anticipated since the impressively successful former Crusaders coach signed on the dotted line, securing his spot in the role all the way back before the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The coach will have been keeping a close eye on Super Rugby Pacific and we selected seven stars that are either uncapped or have been on the fringes of the All Blacks set up who could be considered for selection in 2024.

Hoskins Sotutu (Blues)

The Blues star is probably the form player in the entire Super Rugby Pacific at this stage and leads the way in the try-scoring charts with eight so far this campaign.

Sotutu is one of two capped players on our list with 14 but has not been given an extended run in the black jersey, and his time may have arrived. The number eight has the ability to break a game right open with his impressive pace and deceptive power. It has been a joy to watch him grow and develop as a player over the last couple of years and one gets the feeling he is truly ready for an extended run for the All Blacks.

Ruben Love (Hurricanes)

It is not often players draw comparisons to legends of the game like Christian Cullen, and when they do, it is for good reason. Justin Marshall revealed on the Breakdown that the Hurricanes man reminded him of both Will Jordan and Cullen as the former scrum-half showered love in praise.

Love has been at the heart of a lot of the ‘Canes’ success this season through his electric pace and jaw-dropping sidestep. The 22-year-old could be valuable for Robertson with Jordan out for the season, leaving a spot open in back three. The timing of the starlet’s rise could be perfect, with the incoming coach perhaps inclined to roll the dice on up-and-coming talent

All Blacks legend makes bold Christian Cullen comparison for ‘explosive’ Hurricanes star

Cortez Ratima (Chiefs)

The Chiefs scrum-half has now got a couple of seasons under his belt and is looking more and more complete alongside Damian McKenzie in the half-back pairing for the Waikato men.

He has that ability to pop up in the right place when required, as his seven tries suggest.

Interestingly, following the long-term injury to Cam Roigard there is an opening at nine for the All Blacks. Of course, TJ Perenara’s return to form is a hurdle but if McKenzie is to be the starting 10 his combination with Ratima could be advantageous to the Chief’s Test prospects.

One would think if he continues with his current form he would have done enough to be in the wider squad at the very least.

Xavier Numia (Hurricanes)

The loosehead prop has consistently been in solid form for the league leaders, putting in some solid defensive numbers every single game.

His work in the set-piece is also very solid and on a whole he is the in-form New Zealand loosehead at the moment. Numia is also reasonably experienced having made his debut back in 2019 meaning he could be ready to make the step up to Test level. Of course, there are the likes of Ethan de Groot ahead of him in the pecking order but having several high-quality front-rows is essential to sustained success at Test level.

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Peter Lakai (Hurricanes)

A young hard-working superstar who has been touted as the successor for Ardie Savea which is some going. The back-row is still very young, having only played for New Zealand U20 last year, but has hit the ground running in his first full Super Rugby Pacific season.

Lakai features in the top 10 for carries and tackles in the competition showcasing his quality on both sides of the ball. Now, the All Blacks have loads of quality in the back-row, as our next two stars confirm, but a highly talented youngster like this could benefit from slowly being integrated into the national set-up, similar in some ways to how they have dealt with second-row star Josh Lord.

Brayden Iose (Hurricanes)

Surprise, surprise, another Hurricane putting his hand up. The back-row is comfortable at flank or number eight and has really settled into a beautiful rhythm this season.

Iose has always been a hard worker and looks to have added an ability to beat defenders this season. and is in the top 10 for Super Rugby with 26 – the same as McKenzie and more than Caleb Clarke.

That is some going for the consistent performer who will have caught Robertson’s eye. Unfortunately for Iose, there is a wealth of options for the coach to choose from, but some big performances in the latter stages of the competition would go a long way in convincing the All Blacks boss.

Samipeni Finau (Chiefs)

The one-Test All Black shone on debut last year, scoring a try, and has not looked back since. The consistency in his performances has been evident through the season so far with his impressive engine and physicality cornerstones of his game.

Of course, as aforementioned the depth in the back-row is certainly strong but Finau’s ability to slot into the second-row if required could make him a valuable option in Robertson’s eyes. In addition to that is the fact he has already donned the black jersey meaning the new head coach may opt to field him before blooding new talent.

There is still time to go in the Super Rugby season, and Finau’s All Blacks prospects lie in his hands at this stage.

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