With All Blacks head coach Ian Foster having named his squad for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, Two Cents Rugby picks his top five takeaways from the announcement.
Aaron Smith is the first name on the team sheet
The All Blacks, and other teams have been in this position before, where one player seems so vitally important to their chances. For the All Blacks in 2023, that’s Aaron Smith.
He’s had around half of the game time for the All Blacks at half-back in this Rugby World Cup cycle. Veteran TJ Perenara being injured and Brad Weber falling behind in the pecking order mean things look slightly more reliant on Smith.
Finlay Christie has been solid without being spectacular, and the majority of his All Blacks caps have come from the bench. Cam Roigard is the new hot-shot player with bags of potential, but given he’s only played one Test match, it’d be a big step up to ask him to start in a Rugby World Cup knockout match.
If Smith gets injured, the All Blacks’ chances take a massive knock.
The All Blacks XV didn’t get a look in
After the All Blacks named their initial squad to play in this year’s Rugby Championship, they also named another squad to travel to Japan for two matches – the All Blacks XV.
The squad was largely full of youngsters and uncapped players who were in the All Blacks wider selection scope. However, it also included a few veterans like half-back Weber, loose forward Akira Ioane and midfielder Jack Goodhue.
The talk at the time was that if any of these players stood out, they might just be able to force themselves back into the picture in time for the Rugby World Cup.
Now that the squad has been named, we see none of the All Blacks XV made it. Whether or not players who are leaving New Zealand, like Weber, stick around to play for this second-string side in the future, will be interesting to see.
David Havili is very highly regarded by the All Blacks coaches
Midfielder David Havili is one of those players that the New Zealand rugby public has never fully embraced. Over the last few years he has fought off challenges from players like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Quinn Tupaea (injured) for that second-five berth, only to find himself at last surpassed by Jordie Barrett.
That being said, he is the only player selected who comes in from outside the initial Rugby Championship squad.
Recovering from injury he managed 41 minutes for Tasman in the NPC the weekend of the team announcement. That shift seems to have been enough for the All Blacks coaches to be convinced to take him, where other guys returning from injury haven’t been as lucky.
Braydon Ennor picking up a knock in that second game against Australia may have also helped Havili’s chances.
Super Rugby form counts
All Blacks coaches, for many years have been criticised for ignoring Super Rugby form from some players, and fast tracking other, less proven players. This is still the case to a degree, however the selection of some less experienced players ahead of more established players means Super Rugby form does count in this 2023 squad.
As disappointing as it is to see a guy like Weber miss out, it’s exciting to see Roigard, who was in devastating attacking form in Super Rugby, make it through, despite only playing one Test from the bench.
Likewise, big prop Tamaiti Williams, who perhaps benefits from injuries to guys like George Bower and Joe Moody, makes the team on the back of a great season for the Crusaders.
Emoni Narawa could have easily been cut having missed out recently with a back injury, but like Roigard, one Test and a bunch of Super Rugby form later, still makes the 33.
It’s a mix of Super Rugby talent
With the Crusaders and Chiefs a cut above in this year’s competition, you could certainly make the argument for more of their players in the squad. But with nine Crusaders, eight each from the Chiefs and Blues, five from the Hurricanes and three from the Highlanders, it’s arguably a fair mix.
Certainly a few of the Blues guys were under pressure but perhaps got in a bit on reputation/experience. Hopefully from a Super Rugby perspective this tells players, you can sign for any of the teams and still have a shot at the highest honours.
🇳🇿 The All Blacks named their 33-man squad for the #RWC2023 on Monday.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) August 7, 2023