Steve Hanson has named his Rugby World Cup squad for England 2015.
The current champions have named a strong squad with a good blend of experienced veterans and exciting young prospects. There have been a few surprise exclusions and the All Blacks look a little shallow in some positions. Here is a review of the Squad.
New Zealand squad:
Fullback: Ben Smith (Highlanders), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Hurricanes).
The biggest name missing at this position is Israel Dagg. Dagg has struggled with injury and form recently and misses out despite his experience.
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Ben Smith is very likely to be the starting full-back after an excellent season, with Milner-Skudder very likely to be starting on the wing in the early stages of the World Cup as Waisake Naholo is still recovering from a broken leg. Naholo is expected to be fit by the third round of the World Cup.
With only two full-back options fly-half’s Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade are likely to be used ether at full-back or on the wing at some point.
Wings: Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Waisake Naholo (Highlanders).
Julian Savea is the only winger selected who will come into the World Cup fully fit. Naholo is expected to be fit by the third round of the matches in the group stage where New Zealand will be playing Georgia. Experienced Cory Jane and Ulster bound Charles Piteau are left out.
Centre: Ma'a Nonu (Hurricanes), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders), Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs).
Nonu and Conrad Smith will likely be the starting centre partnership after a strong season and Rugby Championship. Both however have had injury niggles but as long as they are fit they are the most likely to be the starting pair.
Fekitoa has also had a very strong season and is likely to be on the bench. Sonny Bill Williams could well be moved out as an emergency wing for some of the games but will be training hard to try and muscle into the centre berth.
Ryan Crotty who has been Mr Consistency, all season with Crusaders is unlucky to miss out on a squad place.
Flyhalf: Dan Carter (Crusaders), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Colin Slade (Crusaders).
Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade have both been in storming good form throughout the last season’s Super Fifteen, but may well find themselves deployed at wing or full-back for some games due to shallow depth in players in those positions.
Steve Hanson’s consistent selection of Dan Carter at ten for the Rugby Championship signals that the legendary fly-half will be starting as first choice for the World Cup, despite being played behind or outside Colin Slade for the Crusaders most of last season.
Youngster Lima Sopoaga, who earned his first cap against Argentina in the Rugby Championship is left out.
Scrumhalf: Aaron Smith (Highlanders), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs).
Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara will be vying for the nine shirt after both having strong seasons. Tawera Kerr-Barlow will come into the World Cup as the clear third choice, but will definitely get a start during one of the softer games.
Andy Ellis is unlucky to miss out after a good season with Crusaders and previous World Cup experience.
Backrow: Kieran Read (Crusaders), Richie McCaw (capt, Crusaders), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Victor Vito (Hurricanes), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Liam Messam (Chiefs).
The All Blacks have a plethora of talent in the Backrow with Richie McCaw unsurprisingly named as Captain. McCaw is almost certain to start most games at seven and Kieran Read likely to start at eight, Vito, Kaino, Messam and Cane will be vying for the blindside flanker position.
Vito and Kaino may find themselves selected at lock for some games, with the All Blacks naming only three Second Rows in the squad and likely to rest them at some point. Cane is likely to be deputy to Richie McCaw.
Matt Todd and Artie Savea are unlucky to miss out after strong seasons.
Second Row: Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Luke Romano (Crusaders).
Brodie Retallick has been in the form of his life recently and is almost guaranteed a start. Sam Whitelock also has a strong season behind him and the experienced All Black is likely to pair with Retallick.
Luke Romano is likely to be on the bench for a good stretch of the World Cup, though he is certain to gain at least one start considering his mass of talents.
Jeremy Thrush and James Broadhurst are unlucky to miss out after a herculean performance in the Super Fifteen. Broadhurst was rewarded for his form with a first cap against Argentina but was taken off at half time.
Props: Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Charlie Faumuina (Blues), Tony Woodcock (Blues), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders).
Hanson has given himself plenty of selection at prop, With Owen Franks and Faumuina specialising at tighthead, whilst Woodcock and Crockett specialising at loosehead.
Ben Franks has the ability to play either side of the scrum, but has played Tighthead for the majority of last season. Nepo Laulala is unlucky to miss out on a World Cup place after pushing Owen Franks for his jersey at the Crusaders for most of the season.
Wyatt Crockett will be feeling relieved to have made the cut after being one of the most penalised props in the Super Fifteen (along with Ben Alexander). Veterans Crockett and Owen Franks are likely to be the starting Props.
Hooker: Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Keven Mealamu (Blues), Codie Taylor (Crusaders).
Dane Coles will definitely start as All Blacks first choice hooker, with the Legendary Mealamu on the bench. Codie Taylor earns a his World Cup spot after a good run of form.
Likely Twenty three to start for New Zealand
1. Woodcock 2. Coles 3. O. Franks
4. Retalick 5. Whitelock
6. Vito 8. Reade 7. McCaw (Capt)
9. A. Smith 10. Carter
11. Savea 12. Nonu 13. C. Smith 14. Milner-Skudder
Bench- 16. Mealamu 17. B. Franks 18. Faumuina 19. Romano 20. Kaino
21. Perenara 22. C. Slade 23. Fekitoa