As the 2015 Rugby World Cup continues on its journey and the nation of New Zealand feels quietly confident, let’s take a step back and have a look at a squad of players left behind.
The following bunch of men, in their own right, could quite easily compete with any other international side at this year’s RWC and battle deep into the competition.
Shall we call them “The Cavaliers 2.0”?
Instead of playing on the grandest stage of all, these players will be donning their provisional jerseys over the next six weeks.
What are the movements for these players over the next six months? Is there still a spot in the All Blacks side for these men in the future?
The Concrete Mixers
Loosehead Prop – Joe Moody
Moody, who is only 26 and contracted to NZ rugby until 2016, has potentially a big future in the All Blacks.
A former Junior Commonwealth games wrestler, he understands what it takes to manipulate your opposite in the scrum.
With both Woodcock and Ben Franks bowing out of NZ rugby, that leaves a huge opening for the likes of Moody and fellow Crusaders teammate, Wyatt Crockett, to battle it out for that starting loosehead prop position.
Hooker – Hika Elliot
Elliot, who seemed to always be on the outer for world cup selection, is still contracted with the NZRU until 2017.
However, turning 30 during the off season, Elliot will have to battle it out with a few younger hookers coming through NZ rugby, namely; Liam Coltman and Rhys Marshall, for a future role in the All Blacks setup.
With Dane Coles and Codie Taylor showing they are the future ‘rakes’ of NZ rugby, are Elliot’s days in the Black jersey gone?
Tighthead Prop – Nepo Laulala
At only 24, Laulala has a huge future ahead of him. He is another that is contracted with the NZRU until 2017 and with his recent move to the Chiefs, should find himself firmly in the mix for an All Black recall next year.
Arguably one of the most unlucky players to miss out on a RWC spot, Laulala has a chance to dominate the ITM cup this year, with what appears to be an unstoppable Canterbury machine.
The Tall Timber
Lock – Jeremy Thrush
A very untimely injury and a poor performance by the All Black looseforward trio against the Wallabies in Sydney this year left Thrush out of the 31-man squad.
Instead the selectors decided to go for six looseforwards and three locks.
Thrush, who is leaving NZ rugby after the RWC, has mostly likely played his last test match.
Lock – James Broadhurst
A debut to forget pretty much wrote off any chance Broadhurst had of making it into the RWC squad.
He now faces a tough ask of battling it out with two other All Blacks (Bird and Tuipulotu) for what really is limited game time behind Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock and Luke Romanao.
Blindside Flanker – Brad Shields
Shields must be one of the most unlucky men in NZ rugby.
At only 24 he is captain of Wellington ITM cup team and has cemented himself as a consistent performer at Super Rugby level clocking up over 50 caps for the Hurricanes in 4 seasons.
However, he finds himself not only battling for a test spot with the All Blacks, but also trying to hold onto his starting position with the Hurricanes, such is the talent at the franchise.
With Liam Messam heading to the Sevens team next year, Shields may find himself in the running for an All Black debut, although he will need to fight off RWC player and Hurricanes teammate, Victor Vito, first, an All Black veteran in Jerome Kaino second, and then a resurgent Steven Luatua third, to even have a sniff.
Perhaps Number 8 may have an opening… nope. There is future All Blacks captain Kieran Read in the way.
Openside Flanker – Ardie Savea
At only 21, Savea has already amassed 32 caps for the Hurricanes and has travelled with the All Blacks on an end of year tour.
He appears to be a definite future All Black. With the great Richie McCaw’s future still in the balance, Savea’s time is coming; however he will need to prove himself in next season’s Super Rugby competition.
With top opensides Sam Cane and Matt Todd both contracted to NZ rugby for at least another year, our openside flanker stocks still look healthy even with the imminent retirement of our greatest All Black.
Number 8 – Buck Shelford
I bet that this great man could still pull on an All Black jersey on today and do us proud. Easily the unluckiest player to be omitted from the RWC squad, what’s next for this NZ rugby icon?
Halfback – Andy Ellis
Ellis’s luck with the All Blacks continues to elude him. After not playing for the national team since the 2011 RWC final, he finally got his chance at redemption against a fired up Samoan side in Apia this year.
However, that appears to be it once again for the Cantabrian.
He is contracted to NZ rugby for another year but with an in-form Brad Webber and a hungry Augustine Pulu chomping at his heal, Ellis’s chance of being selected for the All Blacks again next season seems slim.
First-five – Lima Sopoaga
What a storming season this 24yr old has had! A Super Rugby title, most points in a season for a Highlanders player, brilliant All Blacks debut in a hostile Ellis Park in South Africa and then for it all to come a screaming halt as he was left out of the 31-man RWC squad.
But not to panic, dear I say it, the All Blacks don’t have the best track record with first-fives and world cups, but that is another story for another day.
Next season Sopoaga will be right in the fight for All Blacks selection. With DanCarter, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor or leaving off shore, it leaves a large gap in our first five stocks which Sopoaga is more than capable of filling.
With the best goal kicking percentage of all NZ goal kickers in this year’s Super rugby, Sopoaga will be up against the likes of Barrett and (fingers crossed) an injury free Aaron Cruden for that starting role in the All Blacks next year.
Second-five – Ryan Crotty
Next year is looking promising for Crotty.
He was very unlucky to miss out on RWC selection, but can be excited about adding to the 13 test caps he already has and at the prospect of becoming a starter in the All Blacks midfield next season with both Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams going theirseparate ways.
A combination with Fekitoa looks likely if he can hold off other in form midfielders: Charlie Ngatai and George Moala.
Centre – Charlie Ngatai
Ngatai seems to have been around NZ rugby for an eternity, however at only 25 he has arguably his best footy years ahead of him.
A true NZ rugby story, he has risen up the ranks since his early year’s playing for Poverty Bay, Wellington and now Taranaki.
He has shown great leadership qualities for his age, captaining both the NZ Maori and now more recently the Taranaki ITM cup side.
Ngatai should be very excited about the possibilities that next year holds.
Left Wing – Charles Piutau
Piutau was in great form all year for a pretty disappointing Blues team, and when his opportunities came in the Black jersey he took them with both hands. However that wasn’t enough for him to make the 31-man RWC squad.
Piutau now heads over for a brief stint with London based club Wasps, before joining Ulster for two seasons. At only 23, it is very possible that Piutau could return to NZ rugby in the future and add to his 17 test caps.
Right Wing – Cory Jane
Jane has been around NZ rugby for a very long time, a house hold name he has turned up in over 210 first class games in NZ.
An absolute key member of the 2011 RWC win, he combined with Israel Dagg to form the “Bomb Squad” for the All Blacks.
Jane’s future with NZ rugby is still a bit shady. He is contracted until 2017 and has made it quite clear that he still wants to win a Super Rugby title with the Hurricanes, but with his recent omission from the All Blacks and his poor run of injuries, who knows where Jane’s future lies.
Fullback – Israel Dagg
Dagg’s form over the last two seasons has been questionable. He has lacked pace and impact from the back, which is what his game is based on.
But with Dagg, he always finds a way to step up for the All Blacks. Unfortunately for him however the coaching team decided to pick on form rather than experience in their back three selections for this year’s RWC.
Still under contract for a further two years, it’s definitely not curtains for Dagg and his All Blacks career.
At 26, Dagg still has some very good years of top level rugby in front of him. I don’t think it will be the last time we see that huge 50m punt or trademark goose step in an All Blacks jersey.
A mix of both young and experienced players litter this 2nd XV line up. This combination has been proven over recent years by the All Blacks to be the best recipe for success, and most likely will be the way teams structure their line ups moving forward.
Either way, the future of NZ rugby is looking very bright.