Eyes on Henry as he prepares to name All Blacks squad

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James Mortimer     10 Jul 2011     Getty Images

Unlike the World Cup squad, which has strict guidelines in terms of deadlines, injury replacements and final numbers, the maiden selection for this season will likely have ‘some room to move’ to allow fringe players to impress or casualty ward members to get a run before the quadrennial tournament in September.

Henry last year insinuated that 80 percent of his World Cup squad had been selected – in theory meaning that only six spots were up for grabs – and with the All Blacks finishing last season ranked as the number one ranked team in rugby, one suspects that most incumbents will get the nod, whether or not they have fired throughout the Investec Super Rugby season.

There could be the expected bolter, with Matt Todd a name at the top of most armchair selectors lists, while fellow Crusaders Robbie Fruean is a possibility, as is Chiefs prop Ben Afeaki.

Recalls could also come for players, with the Highlanders Adam Thomson and Ben Smith having strong campaigns, while Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett has done everything he can with a powerful season.

Injured players will be given time, especially with the ITM Cup able to give such men a chance to prove their fitness.

Loosehead Tony Woodcock is the name at the top of the list in the forwards, while fullback Israel Dagg is being monitored by the medical teams. Both are expected to get at least a couple of matches with North Harbour and Hawke’s Bay respectively.

Colin Slade, Daniel Braid and Conrad Smith have all made returns to the field in recent weeks.

Slade will likely battle with Aaron Cruden in the race to be Carter’s understudy, Braid will be hoping to fill the same role for Richie McCaw, while Smith (despite a quiet season for the Hurricanes) has probably locked down the centre berth.

In the three quarters Mils Muliaina is all but guaranteed the nod, but the makeup of the wings will depend on how Henry and the All Blacks coaches see the requirements for their outside men.

Smith, Cory Jane, Hosea Gear, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Joe Rokocoko, Zac Guildford and Sean Maitland are all fighting for a wing berth.

Isaia Toeava, long touted as a special project by Henry, probably proved his test credentials with a strong season with the Blues before injuring his hip, and would appeal as he will serve as a strike utility back.

The midfield’s biggest question comes over whether Ma’a Nonu holds onto the second five-eighth position over Sonny Bill Williams, while Richard Kahui and Fruean will fight it out for the second centre’s role.

With every New Zealand franchise boasting an All Blacks scrumhalf, the battle will come down to Jimmy Cowan, Piri Weepu, Alby Mathewson, Brendan Leonard and Andy Ellis. The first two were considered the incumbents last season, but Ellis has probably been in the best form throughout the year.

One would assume that the loose forward starting trio of Kieran Read, McCaw and Jerome Kaino will pick itself, with Liam Messam, Adam Thomson and Daniel Braid fighting for backup roles – while Todd and potentially Luke Braid could bolt.

In the second row Brad Thorn is the senior lock, and much depends on whether the selectors feels if Ali Williams has done enough to bypass Sam Whitelock and Tom Donnelly in the pecking order.

Up front it will be hard to ignore the Crusaders powerful scrum, with the Franks brothers, Crockett and Corey Flynn all likely test candidates.

Veterans including Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore will likely feature, although Flynn’s form could see him jump up the rake’s pecking order.

John Afoa, Neemia Tialata and Afeaki are other options for the All Blacks scrum.