James Mortimer 29.Jul.2012Getty Images
The Chiefs, who knocked out the Crusaders and now will host a final thanks to the heroics of the Sharks, will be notable omissions from the second major squad announcement for the World Champions.
This could, when the final squad is revealed, lead to further significant changes, as coach Steve Hansen wouldn’t be the first national coach to rely on his best performing Super Rugby franchise to provide the nucleus of his test team.
The likes of Aaron Cruden will be certainties for the All Blacks, but most other Chiefs names come with an interesting subplot.
Will Liam Messam get first crack at blindside against the Wallabies, has Tawera Kerr-Barlow done enough to put pressure on Aaron Smith and Piri Weepu, and will Sonny Bill Williams feature heavily due to the absences of other top centres?
There will then be the focus on the Chiefs new test faces, with Ben Tameifuna, Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick all making compelling cases both in Super Rugby and international colours this season.
Retallick, courtesy of lock being a transitional position for the All Blacks, is all but guaranteed, but the makeup of the pack will be something that will be studiously crafted by the selectors.
After all, it will not be an Irish menace they are combatting, but a physical Springboks forward arsenal and the cunning of the Wallabies pack.
Joining Retallick will be Sam Whitelock, but the remainder of the locks are uncertain, with Luke Romano and Ali Williams already on the sidelines.
Up front Tameifuna could be ousted by Blues strongman Charlie Faumuina, an original selection when the All Blacks named the Steinlager Squad for Ireland, before a calf injury ruled him out.
In the back row Kieran Read will be available later in the tournament, but the enthralling shootout between Messam, Victor Vito and Adam Thomson will continue at blindside, as will be the continued debate as to Cane’s best use – as well as the position of the All Blacks captain.
Halfback is now a stacked queue in New Zealand Rugby, with Kerr-Barlow banging the door loudly, as did his Hurricanes rival TJ Perenara before breaking his ankle, although one suspects that with the likes of Will Genia to combat, Hansen will stick with his one veteran / one fresh face at nine.
Carter now has a true heir apparent in Cruden, but whether or not Beauden Barrett continues his All Blacks career in the coming months may depend on how the selectors view the conundrum in the midfield.
With Cruden in such form, a shift out for Carter wouldn’t be out of the question, for while Sonny Bill is likely to don the Black jersey again, the World Champions are without their frontline centres in Conrad Smith and Richard Kahui.
If Williams or Ma’a Nonu shift to 13 to cover, Hansen could be tempted to name a playmaker at second five-eighth to work in tandem with one of the midfield dreadnoughts, although he has additional cover in the form of Tamati Ellison.
Out wide there will be selection casualties, with Cory Jane likely to return to the All Blacks frame, meaning that there won’t be room for the Hurricanes back as well as Zac Guildford, Julian Savea, Hosea Gear and Ben Smith.
Smith might benefit thanks to his versatility, considered a dark horse option for the All Blacks midfield, but once again the embarrassment of riches in the wings means that a couple of big names will have to be squeezed out.