All Blacks' dad's army takes centre stage
WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT: New Zealand’s ageing squad could be their biggest downfall, even though experience is vital at the global showpiece.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus, speaking on the eve of his team’s departure for Japan, said getting the balance right is a challenge.
South Africa’s pride departed from Johannesburg on Friday for the ninth World Cup – the seventh for the Boks, who missed the first two in 1987 and 1991.
Defending champions New Zealand and 2019 Rugby Championship winners South Africa meet in a crucial Pool B match in Yokohama City on September 21.
Just like the Boks in 2015, the All Blacks are banking on a number of players on the wrong side of 30 – for what they hope to be a record hat-trick of titles.
New Zealand will again be captained by Kieran Read, who will be taking part in his third World Cup.
At 33 Read is not just the oldest, but his 121 Tests also makes him the most experience and one of nine players that are 30 and above.
He is joined in the 30-something club by Dane Coles (32, 64 Tests), Joe Moody (30, 40), Samuel Whitelock (30, 111), Matt Todd (31, 20), Aaron Smith (30, 86), Ryan Crotty (30, 44), Sonny Bill Williams (33, 53) and Ben Smith (33, 79).
Now add those on the brink of the 30s club – Liam Coltman (29, five), Codie Taylor (28, 44), Angus Ta’avao (29, seven), Brodie Retallick (28, 77), Brad Weber (28, two), Beauden Barrett (28, 77) – and you realise just how ‘experienced’ the Kiwi team is.
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The Bok coach, who described himself as both excited and nervous, felt the Kiwis face a tough balancing act.
“It is tough to select a World Cup squad when players have niggling injuries, especially players who are over 30,” he said of the challenge of managing an ageing squad – as the Boks did in 2011 and 2015.
“I experienced it previously in a World Cup.
“If you have a lot of players over 30, you really have to manage your squad well – especially with a short turnaround time [at the World Cup].
“If I look at their squad’s age, there’s quite a few over 30 and you have a guy like [Brodie] Retallick in there [despite carrying a shoulder injury] because he is such an important player for them.
“I guess he is going to be fit for them somewhere in the tournament,” he said of the veteran lock – who may only be fit for the knock-out stages in late October.
“They have a really strong squad,” Erasmus said, adding: “[That is] if they get Retallick match fit and those players over 30 don’t have those niggling injuries.
“They have an experienced squad and they’ll be the team to beat at the World Cup.”
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