Possible All Blacks World Cup squad
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen will name a 31-strong squad for Japan in the confines of the Eden Park changing rooms on Wednesday.
New Zealand’s 36-0 trouncing of Australia served twin purposes for the veteran coach: convincing the public his team are on track for Japan, and finding solutions for a handful of contestable positions.
There is some concern over the fitness of accomplished lock Brodie Retallick, who dislocated his shoulder in the 16-16 draw with South Africa a month ago but should nevertheless make the cut.
With a return date still unclear, four specialist locks are likely to travel to Japan as a safety net.
According to Stuff, 23-test star Liam Squire has notified All Blacks management that he has made himself available for selection for next month’s tournament, making him a frontrunner to be included in what should be a five-man loose forward group.
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The most threadbare position is flyhalf, where Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga are set to be the only specialist pivots.
Barrett has established himself as a first-choice fullback this year, leaving Hansen praying that neither suffers injury.
The form of two veterans – prop Owen Franks and outside back Ben Smith – has deteriorated in 2019 but both are expected to be included.
Franks and Smith were in the starting XV who beat Australia in the 2015 Final at Twickenham but could struggle to find a berth in the team for the blockbuster opening pool game against South Africa in Yokohama on September 21.
Missing from that great side of four years ago are a group of long-serving stars headed by captain Richie McCaw and flyhalf Dan Carter.
Hansen has successfully built a new team around captain Kieran Read and overseen just six losses in 46 Tests since the last global tournament.
A possible All Blacks World Cup squad:
Backs: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Sevu Reece, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Brad Weber.
Forwards: Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Matt Todd, Liam Squire, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Nepo Laulala, Owen Franks, Angus Ta’avao, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Liam Coltman.