The true achievement of New Zealand Rugby, apart from being the reigning two-time Rugby World Cup winners (2011 and 2015), Bledisloe Cup holders (every year since 2003) and Rugby Championship champs (five times out of the last six years), is being able to hold on to their best players.
Despite the lure of huge dollars from Europe they leak very few of their premium stars to France or England, and even when they do lose a current All Black they have a replacement ready to step in who is just as good: Jack Goodhue for Malakai Fekitoa (Toulon), Richie Mo’unga for Lima Sopoaga (Wasps) and Scott Barrett for Steven Luatua (Bristol).
The Kiwis’ talent and depth makes them the envy of the rest of the world.
Casting an eye over the other nations’ squads – South Africa, Australia and Argentina – it’s hard to see them giving the All Blacks too much trouble.
The Springbok squad annouced by Rassie Erasmus for the @CastleLagerSA Rugby Champs include three uncapped players in Cyle Brink, Marco van Staden and Damian Willemse, while Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth and Warren Whiteley are back from injury. #LoveRugby pic.twitter.com/ShF5OwRbvG— South African Rugby (@Springboks) August 6, 2018
Wallabies boss Michael Cheika has shifted the deckchairs a little, bringing Crusaders’ flanker Pete Samu straight into the squad, though he is yet to represent an Australian Super Rugby team.
The 18-year-old Queensland flyer Jordan Petaia adds some interest as does the recall of midfielder Matt Toomua, who although he still plays in Leicester has become re-eligible for the Wallabies as he has signed for the Melbourne Rebels for 2019.
Toomua’s Tigers team mate Tatafu Polota-Nau is also named in the squad adding much-needed starch to the Wallabies’ hooking stocks, qualifying as he has played the requisite 60 Tests for an overseas based player.
There is no place however for Rebels flanker Richard Hardwick who impressed for the Australian Super Rugby Selection against the Wallabies in the pre-Bledisloe Cup trial last Friday.
The Wallabies have experience and considerable talent in fly-half Bernard Foley, captain Michael Hooper, flanker David Pocock, lock Adam Coleman, centre Kurtley Beale and full-back Israel Folau but they seem two or three forwards short of having a pack that can dominate the All Blacks – and that is what you need to do if you are going to beat them.
#BREAKING | Your #Wallabies team to face the Australian Super selection this Friday at Leichhardt Oval. FREE entry, kicking off at 6:45pm. #BledisloeCup READ: https://t.co/DSrGv3Pm77 pic.twitter.com/mzVGSEKfuL— Qantas Wallabies (@qantaswallabies) August 1, 2018
The Springboks will certainly be aiming to do just that and have the muscle to give the All Blacks a few jitters up front.
Former captain and lock Eben Etzebeth returns and he will help make up a monster pack with hooker Malcolm Marx, flanker Francois Louw, prop Steven Kitshoff and fellow lock RG Snyman.
They certainly have some speed to trouble New Zealand out wide too with Aphiwe Dyantyi and Makazole Mapimpi, plus the in-form full-back Willie Le Roux and scrum-half Faf de Klerk, but the Boks’ trouble will be consistency and putting together an 80-minute performance.
Any lapses in concentration and the ABs will make them pay.
New Pumas coach Mario Ledesma has opted for six new faces as he tries to turn around Argentina’s fortunes.
After being thrashed by an under-strength Wales (twice) and Scotland in June, Ledesma was brought into replace the flailing Daniel Hourcade.
But the former Pumas prop and current Jaguares coach has very little time to turn things around.
Pumas in Training today.— Paul Tait (@Argentina_2027) August 8, 2018
8 Ortega Desio
3 Tetaz Chaparro
1 García Botta
The new faces are lock Marco Ciccioli, hooker Diego Fortuny, tight head props Lucas Favre and Mayco Vivas, lock Franco Molina and Santiago Grondon, as the Pumas prepare for their opening game against South Africa in Durban next weekend.
Also included are established stars Agustin Creevy, Pablo Matera, Nicolas Sanchez and Emiliano Boffelli.
Argentina will be desperate to improve on last season’s Rugby Championship campaign when they lost all six of their games.
For the All Blacks squad click HERE.
Matias Alemanno, Rodrigo Bruni, Marco Ciccioli, Agustin Creevy, Lucas Favre, Diego Fortuny, Santiago Garcia Botta, Santiago Grondona, Marcos Kremer, Ignacio Larrague, Tomas Lavanini, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Pablo Matera, Vivas Mayco, Santiago Medrano, Franco Molina, Julian Montoya, Javier Ortega Desio, Guido Petti, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Juan Zeiss
Gonzalo Bertranou, Emiliano Boffelli, Sebastian Cancelliere, Tomas Cubelli, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Bautista Delguy, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Bautista Ezcurra, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Martin Landajo, Juan Cruz Mallia, Matias Moroni, Ramiro Moyano, Matias Orlando, Nicolas Sanchez
Jermaine Ainsley, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Folau Faingaa, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper (capt), Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Pete Samu, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, Caleb Timu, Lukhan Tui, Taniela Tupou
Tom Banks, Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Jack Maddocks, Billy Meakes, Sefa Naivalu, Jordan Petaia, Nick Phipps, Joe Powell, Curtis Rona, Matt Toomua
Cyle Brink, Jean-Luc du Preez, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Thomas du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi (capt), Francois Louw, Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Bongi Mbonambi, Franco Mostert, Tendai Mtawarira, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Marvin Orie, RG Snyman, Akker van der Merwe, Marco van Staden, Warren Whiteley
Lukhanyo Am, Ross Cronje, Faf de Klerk, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Andre Esterhuizen, Elton Janjies, Jesse Kriel, Willie le Roux, Lionel Mapoe, Makazole Mapimpi, Lwazi Mvovo, Embrose Papier, Handre Pollard, Ivan van Zyl, Damian Willemse
Despite holding the Bledisloe Cup for the last 15 years, winning 33 of the 42 matches played during that period, and at almost unbackable odds – Hansen has declared the Wallabies the favourites for this year’s series.
That’s the same team that has beaten New Zealand just seven times in the last decade-and-a-half at a win ration of 19 per cent, including 11 losses by 20 points or more.
But it all means nothing to the All Blacks’ boss.
WATCH 🎥 After announcing the Investec Rugby Championship squad, All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen breaks down the key talking points.— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) August 6, 2018
FULL SQUAD ➡️ https://t.co/geFQt2tP28 #TeamAllBlacks pic.twitter.com/umSc2Mcpex
“After the Rugby World Cup, this is the most important trophy we play for,” he said, somehow keeping a straight face.
“We lost to Australia the last time we played them, so no doubt they’ll have a lot of self-confidence and are worthy of starting as favourites.”
Someone also needs to remind Hansen that New Zealand actually hold the Bledisloe Cup and have done so stretching back to almost last century as the 2015 Rugby World Cup winner spoke of wanting to “recapture” the famous trophy.
To do that he just needed to stroll into the NZRU offices to see the Cup is in the same spot it has been since 2003, save for being taken out once a year to be raised above the head of the All Blacks captain.
You could accuse Hansen of playing mind games if it wasn’t so laughable.
The Wallabies haven’t even got near claiming back the Bledisloe, being comfortably lapped in the annual series.
Indeed the All Blacks have only been in danger of losing the Cup twice in that period – 2007 and 2015, when they lost the first Test in the series, before comfortable victories in the remaining matches.
But in an attempt to remove complacency, Hansen continued to talk up his Rugby Championship opponents.
“We’ll face quality opposition throughout the Championship,” he said.
“Both Australia and South Africa appear to have grown their games and will come at us with real energy and conviction, while the Argentinians have a new coaching group, which will present new challenges.
“All of this means that this year’s Rugby Championship will be a well-contested competition and we’ll need to once again raise the bar across the board when it comes to our preparation, our skill levels and how we handle pressure.
“Being comfortable is not an option.”
Hansen will continue to tell himself that but when Hurricanes mid-fielder Ngani Laumape, who would currently walk into most starting Test XVs in the world, can’t even make the squad – it gives you an idea of how strong the All Blacks are.
Laumape will, however, provide cover for Sonny Bill Williams, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, while hooker Liam Coltman will cover for Dane Coles, who is expected to return to Test match rugby after a long time on the sideline due to concussion.
The squad also features two uncapped players: Crusaders prop Tim Perry and young Chiefs halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.
Another feature of the squad is the return of No8 and Captain Kieran Read, who missed the series against France through injury, while lock Brodie Retallick also returns to the side after 11 months away from Test rugby.
Very interesting again from Hansen, particularly in relation to the Barrett v Mo'unga debate.— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) August 6, 2018
Hansen clearly feels Mo'unga has had a better pack in front of him and better chat from 12 outside him this year. https://t.co/oFXuy3QqjR
It’s a frightening thought what these two World Rugby Players of the Year, in 2013 and 2014 respectively, will add to an already invincible team.
The squad has a total of 1,078 Test caps and boasts the best players in the world in every position barring a few.
The All Blacks squad will assemble in Christchurch on Thursday before taking on the Canterbury and Otago provincial sides in the Game of Three Halves match at AMI Stadium on Friday night.
A squad of 32 will then head to Sydney on Sunday to prepare for the first Bledisloe Cup Test on August 18 at 13:45 (UAE time).
ALL BLACKS SQUAD
Dane Coles (31, Hurricanes / Wellington, 56)
Nathan Harris (26, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 13)
Codie Taylor (27, Crusaders / Canterbury, 32)
Owen Franks (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 98)
Joe Moody (29, Crusaders /Canterbury, 34)
Tim Perry (30, Crusaders / Tasman, uncapped)
Karl Tu’inukuafe (25, Chiefs / North Harbour, 3)
Ofa Tuungafasi (26, Blues / Auckland, 17)
Scott Barrett (24, Crusaders / Taranaki, 19)
Brodie Retallick (27, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 68)
Samuel Whitelock (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 99)
Sam Cane (26, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 55)
Shannon Frizell (24, Highlanders / Tasman, 1)
Jackson Hemopo (24, Highlanders / Manawatu, 1)
Kieran Read (32, Crusaders / Counties Manukau, 109) – Captain
Ardie Savea (24, Hurricanes / Wellington, 25)
Liam Squire (27, Highlanders / Tasman, 17)
Luke Whitelock (27, Highlanders / Canterbury, 5)
TJ Perenara (26, Hurricanes / Wellington, 45)
Aaron Smith (29, Highlanders / Manawatu, 74)
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (23, Chiefs / Taranaki, uncapped)
Beauden Barrett (27, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 65)
Damian McKenzie (23, Chiefs / Waikato, 15)
Richie Mo’unga (24, Crusaders / Canterbury, 1)
Ryan Crotty (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 37)
Jack Goodhue (23, Crusaders / Northland, 1)
Anton Lienert-Brown (23, Chiefs / Waikato, 24)
Sonny Bill Williams (33, Blues / Counties Manukau, 46)
Jordie Barrett (21, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 5)
Rieko Ioane (21, Blues / Auckland, 16)
Nehe Milner-Skudder (27, Hurricanes / Manawatu, 11)
Waisake Naholo (27, Highlanders /Taranaki, 19)
Ben Smith (32, Highlanders /Otago, 67)
2018 Rugby Championship (all times are local)
1. vs. AUSTRALIA. Saturday 18 August, 7.45PM, ANZ Stadium, SYDNEY
2. vs. AUSTRALIA. Saturday 25 August, 7.35PM, Eden Park, AUCKLAND
3. vs. ARGENTINA. Saturday 8 September, 7.35PM, Trafalgar Park, NELSON
4. vs. SOUTH AFRICA. Saturday 15 September, 7.35PM, Westpac Stadium, WELLINGTON
5. vs. ARGENTINA. Saturday 29 September, 7.40PM, Jose Amalfitani Stadium (Estadio Velez Sarsfield), BUENOS AIRES
6. vs. SOUTH AFRICA. Saturday 6 October, 5.05PM, Loftus Versfeld, PRETORIA
82-Test veteran Tatafu Polota-Nau has been selected after Cheika elected to rest the 33-year old in the June Ireland Series.
The squad features six uncapped players including rookie sensation Jordan Petaia, who shone in Friday night’s Bledisloe Cup trial at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney.
Petaia and Rebels centre Billy Meakes add cover to the midfield after injuries ruled out Test regulars Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi.
Captain Michael Hooper will continue his rehabilitation from a hamstring injury that he suffered in the final Test against Ireland while Crusaders’ Super Rugby champion Pete Samu will re-join his Wallabies teammates this week after completing his club duties in New Zealand.
The squad will be revised following the camp in Cessnock with the Wallabies to reconvene next Sunday at a fan day in Blacktown in Sydney’s west.
Wallabies 36-man squad for Cessnock training camp ahead of opening Bledisloe Cup clash
(Test caps, Super Rugby side and age)
Jermaine Ainsley* (uncapped, Melbourne Rebels, 22)
Allan Alaalatoa (23 Tests, Brumbies, 24)
Rory Arnold (15 Tests, Brumbies, 28)
Adam Coleman (23 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 26)
Folau Faingaa* (uncapped, Brumbies, 23)
Ned Hanigan (13 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 23)
Michael Hooper (c) (82 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 26)
Sekope Kepu (94 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 32)
Tolu Latu (7 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 25)
Brandon Paenga-Amosa (3 Tests, Queensland Reds, 22)
David Pocock (69 Tests, Brumbies, 30)
Tatafu Polota-Nau (82 Tests, Leicester, 33)
Tom Robertson (21 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 23)
Izack Rodda (7 Tests, Queensland Reds, 21)
Pete Samu (3 Tests, Brumbies, 26)
Rob Simmons (85 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 29)
Scott Sio (46 Tests, Brumbies, 26)
Caleb Timu (2 Tests, Queensland Reds, 24)
Lukhan Tui (7 Tests, Queensland Reds, 21)
Taniela Tupou (4 Tests, Queensland Reds, 22)
Tom Banks* (uncapped, Brumbies, 24)
Kurtley Beale (74 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 29)
Israel Folau (65 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 29)
Bernard Foley (58 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 28)
Will Genia (90 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 30)
Dane Haylett-Petty (21 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 29)
Reece Hodge (27 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 23)
Marika Koroibete (11 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 26)
Jack Maddocks* (uncapped, Melbourne Rebels, 21)
Billy Meakes* (uncapped, Melbourne Rebels, 27)
Sefa Naivalu (7 Tests, Melbourne Rebels, 26)
Jordan Petaia* (uncapped, Queensland Reds, 18)
Nick Phipps (64 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 29)
Joe Powell (4 Tests, Brumbies, 24)
Curtis Rona (3 Tests, NSW Waratahs, 26)
Matt Toomua (33 Tests, Leicester/Melbourne Rebels, 28)