So the first All Black squad of the year has been selected, and with that, a few "I told you soz" and few surprises.
Starting with the backs - it is great that Doug Howlett is back on board after being effectively dropped when not named in the conditioning programme for the All Blacks at the beginning of the year. The Blues winger came out all guns a-blazing and to many people, has had the best Super tournament season for quite some time. I can't help feel slightly sorry for Rico Gear missing out although I do think that Henry and co will be keeping a close eye on his form over these next few weeks when the NZ A games will be taking place. The winger I personally would have liked to see dropped was Sivavtu. Although he is fast and extremely good - supporting an All Black who has been in court on charges of assaulting his wife doesn't speak to me in volumes. In fact, it doesn't speak to me at all. I'm not a fan. At the end of the day - a game is a game. It is pretty sad the NZRFU have decided to overlook this and put a man that thinks hitting a woman is normal, in their team. Not exactly a good example to the young kids or any other people for that matter out there who follow the ABs.
A relief was Ma'a Nonu not being selected. He is powerful, yes. But I haven't seen anything in his time to qualify him playing for the All Blacks. The guy is immature and needs to sort out his head plus all those little niggly rough edges before he thinks he can be assured of an automatic place. In the last season, there have been far too many shoulder charges and fumbles to give him that guarantee. He has the potential. But if it can't be harnessed then it is a whole lot of wasted energy. Whether it is up to the coaches or to the player to focus on this - I don't know. But for now, it is not the year to try and smooth out his foibles. I have the feeling league or the UK calls for Nonu. In this instance, I won't be gnashing my teeth about another All Black loss if he decides to go either way.
Although I felt sorry that Jimmy Cowan had not been selected (I far preferred him to Weepu), I'm happy that Leonard is in. After Kelleher I don't think there has been a half back that has been truly up to the mark. I was very impressed with Andrew Ellis last year, but his form has slipped slightly and it has been good to see another step up to the plate. (Another huge relief was the exclusion of Senio. I don't understand what people see in him at all).
The rest of the usual suspects. Good (obviously) that Carter is injury free (for now) and selected. And there can be no better back up than Nick Evans who is a shining star and without Carter at the helm - would surely be NZ's and maybe the world number 1 flyhalf. Another who was unlucky (but I'm sure his time will come) is Stephen Brett. What is it with those cantab fly halfs? Is it weetbix, Robbie Deans or those dry northwesterlies?
Midfield and Mauger has impressed on and off throughout the season. I guess we are relying on his steady head and his ability to read the game. When it works - it really works. When it doesn't (like MacDonald dropping a ball in his own '22 or missing a crucial tackle) it is truly awful. Another who can be spoken of in similar terms is McAlister. If he can stay injury free for half a second - and he is having a white moment there is no doubting, this player has 'it'. However, I sometimes worry he is tempted to be Carlos the Spencer the Second (not a bad thing on a good day, but on bad day, this is dire) and boy, can it let a team down - all those little aimless chip kicks and so forth.
The big player for me and my prediction for world cup superstardom is none other than a man/boy I shamelessly criticised but a year and a half ago. I now realise why Smith, Henry and Hansen are the AB coaches (although for many years I was bitterly disappointed the NZRFU ignored my numerous applications). Toeava has the 'x' factor. Something that is not seen very often and needs to be enjoyed. The potential to create out of nothing. The ability to run a circle in slow motion against the opposition and then score a try under the sticks. Forget the Carters, the Steyns, the Giteaus and the Darcys. Toeava will be the star of the Rugby World Cup 2007 and should hopefully help to bring home the bacon after a twenty year famine for the NZ public.
NEW ZEALAND squad - 2007 Dan Carter – Canterbury, Jerry Collins – Wellington, Nick Evans – Otago, Troy Flavell – Auckland, Carl Hayman – Otago, Andrew Hore – Taranaki, Doug Howlett – Auckland, Chris Jack – Tasman, Byron Kelleher – Waikato, Brendon Leonard – Waikato, Luke McAlister - North Harbour, Richie McCaw - Canterbury (captain), Leon MacDonald – Canterbury, Chris Masoe – Wellington, Aaron Mauger – Canterbury, Keven Mealamu – Auckland, Malili Muliaina – Waikato, Anton Oliver – Otago, Keith Robinson – Waikato, Josevata Rokocoko – Auckland, John Schwalger – Wellington, Sitiveni Sivivatu – Waikato, Conrad Smith – Wellington, Rodney So’oialo – Wellington, Reuben Thorne – Canterbury, Neemia Tialata – Wellington, Isaia Toeava – Auckland, Piri Weepu – Wellington, Ali Williams – Auckland, Tony Woodcock - North Harbour