Yay for Test season, it’s back ... and this time our All Blacks enter it as incumbent World Champions. Steve Hansen’s first squad as All Black coach was announced this morning, and already the media hounds are hot on his tail with all sorts of conspiracies and controversies: “Why Weepu?”, “No Ellis?”, “Ali Williams ... at his age?”, “Will Carter be able to kick?”. All valid points really, but also just attempts to fill air tome, paper columns ... and obviously (ahem) small time blogs.
Hansen has a pretty intact legacy from Graham Henry, and a squad full of very experienced players, a renewed depth in many positions after a World Cup campaign ... and some deserved bolters. So, I reckon we are in good nick for the series against an Irish team that is going to play for more than simple pride - they’ll be up for it.
But I thought I would also take a look at our real competition this year, and where they lie. Australian coach Robbie Deans, and new Springbok coach Heineke Meyer, also named their first squads of 2012 today, and I think they face more rebuilding than us this season. New blood, new ideas (well, maybe not with Deans) ... but how would the starting XVs of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia potentially stack up this year?
Now, the Wallabies are the only team to name a team so far for their first game against the Scottish. I still think Hansen is going to go with proven winners, especially for his first Test as coach ... the bolters and shuffling may come later to allow some fine tuning before the Rugby Championship kicks off. He’s put Weepu in, so why not give Nonu another chance too? This is an illustration only.
South Africa: well I’ll admit I have gone out on a limb in choosing my XV - please help, any Bok fans.
However, even as a cobbled effort, you can see just how much experience the All Blacks have here in terms of Test caps ... and advantage over the other two teams already. We have games under our belt to burn, and established combinations in all key areas that may not even be upset too much by the introduction of new players, after all they will be surrounded by World Cup winners!