At 6:30p.m. on the 30th of August, the majority of New Zealand rugby heads huddled around the television with their own team lists in hand to see how their squads matched up against the one selected to recapture the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
Never have we seen a squad naming that carried so much excitement and hype.
There were some surprising decisions in the eye’s of many couch-coaches in New Zealand, but I believe we have the right mix to win the cup for the first time, away from the shores of our own backyard.
For a long time, rugby fans have been crying out for the selectors to reward form. The cries have finally been answered, as the selectors have overlooked some players who have been trusted in the past due to their experience, with players who have stepped up over the past year, particularly in the back three.
I believe 100% in the difficult selection choices that have been made. Who would have guessed that the All Black selectors would take such a gamble on players such as Waisake Naholo, who has had a rise as meteoric as you will ever see, over experienced candidates such as Israel Dagg and Cory Jane who have proven themselves time and time again in the pressure cooker that is international rugby?
Steve Hansen summed up his decision by stating “we can’t win the world cup by having ordinary, we need something different.”
In my opinion that is something that Naholo offers. He is an X-Factor player who has proven that this year against the best opposition in super rugby. He can produce the goods when it is most required, playing a major part in the Highlanders super rugby rags to riches story.
Despite this, experience is still the difference between making great decisions or making an absolute hash of a pressure situation. The All Black selectors have gone with the meat and potatoes of New Zealand rugby yet again to complement the likes of the meal you will find at the brand new restaurant on the Viaduct harbour.
It is a regular occurance to find people saying that our proven performers need to retire, to hand wheel over to the future of our game. But experience wins world cups. The likes of Daniel Carter, Richie Mccaw and Conrad Smith are all players who show they have the experience and composure to perform for a long period of time in the pressure of must win matches.
Some may ask why the All Blacks have persisted with having three halfbacks in the squad when they could have bolstered other areas in the backline? To me that would be like going to SkyCity with your life savings.
Aaron Smith is clearly our best halfback by a country mile and it is obvious the selectors believe TJ Perenara is the next cab off the rank. I personally do not believe it is worth risking Aaron Smith in matches against Tonga and Georgia, matches that the All Blacks are destined to win, which brings the third halfback into calculation.
Halfback is a specialast position on the field and one that is probably underestimated, which means it would come with a significant risk had they only taken two.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow offers a different style of play to the other two halfbacks. He is our best defensive halfback whose tackle count could sometimes be mistaken for Mccaw, as well as keeping ruck defences all over the world wide awake.
I am pleased they have persisted with Liam Messam, a player who gives one hundred and ten percent every time he walks out of the tunnel. He could have just as easily been left out of the squad just as he was four years ago to take an extra lock, however, the selectors decided they have adequate lineout cover in the form of Victor Vito and Jerome Kaino who are both world class lineout forwards.
Some tough calls had to be made by the All Black selectors in a bid to win the William Webb-Ellis trophy for the third time. The selectors have gone with a mix of exciting youth and experience. There is still a whole lot of debate around some of the selections but it is important we all now support and believe this group is one that can produce the goods on the biggest stage of them all.