NZ Training Squad: Young Guns and Old Guard

Steve Hansen, NZ head coach: he’s been around the set-up for a long time, and he has previous experience as an international head coach with Wales. With so much emphasis on the All Blacks winning their home World Cup, there was always going to be an odd honeymoon period afterwards once they took the William Webb Ellis trophy, but his first squad is a bit of a shake-up.

The New Zealand All Blacks have picked a 35-strong training squad to prepare for the forthcoming visit of Ireland for a three match test series in June, and it’s pretty interesting to see the turnover of personnel since their victorious World Cup.

With the recently-knighted Graham Henry out of the hot seat after eight years, there was always bound to be a few changes. Even though new head coach Steve Hansen was a long-time assistant of Henry’s – and followed a similar career path in some respects, in that he did a stint as head coach of Wales – he’ll want to put his own stamp on things. Here’s a review of the RWC11 squad, and below is the recently announced training squad:

Forwards [19]:

  • Props [6]: Ben Franks [Crusaders], Owen Franks [Crusaders], Wyatt Crockett [Crusaders], Ben Tameifuna [Chiefs], Charlie Faumuina [Blues], Tony Woodcock [Blues]
  • Hookers [2]: Andrew Hore [Highlanders], Keven Mealamu [Blues]
  • Locks [4]: Brodie Retallick [Chiefs], Ali Williams [Blues], Sam Whitelock [Crusaders], Luke Romano [Crusaders]
  • Backrow [7]: Adam Thomson [Highlanders], Kieran Read [Crusaders], Richie McCaw [Crusaders], Victor Vito [Hurricanes], Brad Shields [Hurricanes], Luke Whitelock [Crusaders], Sam Cane [Chiefs]

Backs [16]:

  • Scrum-halves [4]: Piri Weepu [Blues], Tawera Kerr-Barlow [Chiefs], Andy Ellis [Crusaders], Aaron Smith [Highlanders]
  • Outhalves [3]: Aaron Cruden [Chiefs], Dan Carter [Crusaders], Beauden Barrett [Hurricanes]
  • Centres [5]: Richard Kahui [Chiefs], Sonny-Bill Williams [Chiefs], Conrad Smith [Hurricanes], Ma’a Nonu [Blues], Tamati Ellison [Highlanders]
  • Wings [2]: Julian Savea [Hurricanes], Cory Jane [Hurricanes]
  • Fullbacks [2]: Israel Dagg [Crusaders], Ben Smith [Highlanders]

Bullish Crusaders centre Robbie Fruean is the most obvious omission. On current form, The Mole things he’d start for any other XV in test rugby, but sometimes that’s just not good enough for the Kiwis. Former All Black and Samoan centre Frank Bunce [one of the very best centers of the 1990s] thinks he’s still a bit inconsistent:

Robbie Fruean is unfortunate to miss out, especially so given that Richard Kahui [who was named in the squad] is injured. Having missed out on selection for the RWC11 squad as well, one wonders what it is that Hansen sees in him and doesn’t like.

“He is certainly explosive and strong and has all the ability – but the one thing I would ask him for is a bit more consistency,” Bunce said yesterday.

“You can’t doubt he was the star against the Waratahs but you need to put together those performances, or something very similar, together on a consistent basis to really turn the heads of the All Blacks selectors. The last thing a coach wants is to see him on fire one week and then not see him the next.”

There are too many good New Zealand players in Super Rugby to go through who has been left out one-by-one, so The Mole will restrict himself to those who were part of the RWC11 squad but aren’t included this time around.

John Afoa [28, prop] – Afoa has been a huge success since moving to Ulster. He’s the cornerstone of their scrum and brings the excellent basic skills – hard tackling, sure handling, straight running and good decision-making – that Northern Hemisphere rugby fans have come to associate with All Blacks.

Corey Flynn [31, hooker] – Corey Flynn is still lining out for the Crusaders and has simply been omitted from the training panel. With only two hookers included [Mealamu and Hore, both of whom were also in the RWC11 squad and both of whom are older than him], it’s a vote of no confidence from the new management.

Brad Thorn [37, lock] – the legendary tighthead lock will line up for Leinster in both the Heineken Cup and the Pro12 final over the next fortnight. Having retired from international rugby after the World Cup, he went straight to Japan for a spell with the Sanix Blues before arriving in Leinster in March on a three-month deal. Thorn looks like he has been trying to play as much rugby as he can as he nears the end of his magnificent 19-year dual code professional career, and he’s still going strong.

Anthony Boric [28, lock] – the Blues man was invalided out of his side’s mini-tour to South Africa in March after suffering a neck injury against the Bulls.

Jerome Kaino [28, blindside] – the standout blindside of RWC11 confirmed in late March that he’s taking up a lucrative two year deal in Japan with Toyota. He hopes to return to New Zealand after that and try to win back his jersey for RWC15 in England.

Jimmy Cowan [30, scrum-half] – 30 year old Cowan has slipped down the ranks at the Highlanders behind Aaron Smith and will be joining Gloucester for the 2012-13 season.

Colin Slade suffered a serious but clean break of the leg in March against the Chiefs. He’s had a run of bad luck since being called into the World Cup squad as Dan Carter’s back-up, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for the talented young outhalf.

Colin Slade [24, outhalf] – the luckless Highlander broke his fibula and tibula against the Waikato Chiefs in March and is unavailable for selection for the rest of the year.

Isaia Toeava [26, utility back] – like fellow Blues man Boric, Toeava is out injured and will likely require surgery. He has had serious problems with a hip condition for the last three seasons.

Zac Guildford [23, wing] – despite playing some sharp rugby for the Crusaders alongside Israel Dagg and fellow omittee Fruean, Zac Guildford doesn’t make a squad that is strangely light on wingers. He had some well-documented drinking problems during the World Cup and it might be that the coaching team is leaving him out of the spotlight to let him get his personal life back on an even keel.

Mils Muliaina [31, fullback] – the 31-year old All Black centurion and long-time Chiefs captain has retired from international rugby and is currently plying his trade in Japan.

World Cup squads were 30-strong, and there are ten players who were part of the All Blacks successful effort that are now out of the picture. That’s a big turnover. There are so many good new players coming into professional rugby in New Zealand every year that there’s always been a high attrition rate.

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7 thoughts on “NZ Training Squad: Young Guns and Old Guard

  1. Flynn’s not had the best season (turned the ball over 27 times already) and it seems that they would rather use Tameifuna as 3rd choice hooker in this camp. Presume Hika Elliot would be picked ahead of Flynn if there were injuries or even Dane Coles, so agree he looks out of favour.

    The reason for Flynn, Todd, Messam’s non-inclusion was that “we know lots about them”, which is interesting as they presumably know lots about Ali Williams, Weepu and co but picked them.

    I wonder how many of the young guns will be given any match time in this Test series. Im thinking they are there to soak in the experience, training this time around.

  2. The really terrifying thing is the fit backline that they could’ve fielded but have omitted from the squad

    9. Perinara
    10. Tom Taylor
    11. Guildford
    12. Freuan
    13. Ranger
    14. Gear
    15. Andre Taylor

    Don’t the ABs have a rule about not selecting players outside of NZ, hence Afoa and Kaino are not in contention for selection?

    • Agreed, RM. They’ve so many quality wingers [Masaga of the Chiefs is excellent as well] – it’s odd that they have so little faith in them. It looks a little like Hansen has puts his stock in footballing ability and nous rather than explosiveness, although obviously Savea is a beast.

  3. Not to be wildly optimistic, but a sconce at the tight-five options wouldn’t fray the nerves overmuch. They’re all good players and can cheat at ruck-time with the best of them, but they’re not exactly monstrous in the tight. So something like the waste and ruin of Twickers is not showing in the entrails. They have backs to beat the band and the backrow will be influential. Yet there’s hope in the increasing athleticism of Ireland’s pack and the defensive excellence of the backs (half-backs particularly) that the ABs won’t slice Ireland to pieces out wide. For the first time in a while, Ireland’s best players play in the same positions as New Zealand’s best players, albeit that theirs are better.

  4. I think Liam Messam can feel most aggrieved becasue after Ruuuchie they haven’t really picked another specialist fetcher. Fruean was barnstorming against the Tahs but then followed it up with a quiet performance against the Reds, so Bunce is porbably spot on. I’m disappointed they haven’t picked Andre Taylor and according to Beauden Barrett, so is Andre.

    By the way, it seems Beauden is the NZ equivalent of Keith Earls. His old man is Kevin “Smily” Barrett who was a mean bastard in the Taranaki forward pack for years but never got higher honours.

  5. I am no expert on back play, but having watched Fruean’s performance against the Waratahs one element stood out. In the lead up to Guildford’s try, he was one on one with the Waratah’s full back and had Guildford free on the inside. In that situation,you would expect him to give the simple pass inside and take the score. However, and went to go over the full back and while he did set up the try for Guildford (with an exceptionally skilful one handed pass), in my opinion if,for example, Conrad Smith was in the same situation he would have drawn the full back and given the pass inside for the certain five pointer. Again, I don’t claim any great knowledge of back play but it’s what crossed my mind at the time…!

    I agree with your comment about Lelia Masaga above, he is an excellent player who is having a really good year.

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