All Blacks World Cup Bolters throughout history

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Typically, a bolter has little or no international experience but offers something unique to the squad and is perhaps largely unknown to the opposition. Some bolters were risks that quickly faded from public memory. Others become household names and even legends.

1987:  Michael Jones - The youngest forward selected for the inaugural Rugby World Cup team, Jones had only played eight games for Auckland, a match for Western Samoa in 1986, and two All Black trials when he was one of four flankers picked for the tournament, resisting competition from older and excellent opponents like Brent Pope and Paul Renton.

The 1988 Rugby Almanack noted, “seldom has a player made such a bold impression in his first year as an All Black.” 

On the openside, Jones scored the first try by an individual at the World Cup in the All Blacks 70-6 crushing of Italy at Eden Park in the opening game. 

His pace, uncanny anticipation, effective tackling, and all-around athletic ability saw Jones establish himself as one of the best players at the tournament. 

He scored the first try in the All Blacks 29-9 win over France in the World Cup final, also at Eden Park. Incidentally, the player known as ‘Iceman’ also scored the first try of the 1991 Rugby World Cup. 

He retired from international rugby in 1998 after playing 55 Tests.

1991: Jason Hewitt
- Halfback Jason Hewitt was a New Zealand Secondary Schools’ representative in 1986 but didn’t make huge waves in his initial forays in first-class rugby.  He played 25 matches for Manawatu between 1988 and 1990 most of which were in the second division.

When impressive Auckland halfback Brett Iti switched to league in 1990 Hewitt migrated North and made a bigger impression. Still, he was a surprise choice for the 1991 World Cup. Hewitt played in the 31-21 group victory over Italy. Graeme Bachop and Jon Preston, also covering first five, were the other halfbacks in the squad. Hewitt never played for the All Blacks again but helped Auckland win NPC titles in 1993 and 1994.

1995: Jonah Lomu - At the age of 19 years and 45 days Lomu, became the youngest All Black Test player when he was selected against France in Christchurch in 1994. He was retained a week later in Auckland but unfortunately, the All Blacks lost both fixtures and Lomu was dropped for the remainder of the season. 

Head Coach Laurie Mains was reluctant to select Lomu for the 1995 World Cup, but selector and former All Black Earle Kirton insisted, and his faith was vindicated. 

Lomu ran riot scoring a tournament-leading seven tries in five appearances. His four tries against England in the semi-final is the most famous individual performance in Rugby World Cup history.

1999: Dylan Mika
- The powerful loose forward played seven Tests for Samoa in 1994 and 1995 which meant he was ineligible for All Blacks selection for three years. After 23 appearances for the Blues between 1996 and 1998 he was drafted to the Chiefs in 1999.

Switching between six and eight he often captained the Hamilton-based side as he burst into the All Blacks. He was used twice by the All Blacks in the 1999 Tri Nations as a substitute against Australia and South Africa doing enough to make the World Cup team.

Mika started the 101-3 rout of Italy in pool play and replaced Reuben Thorne in the third-place playoff against South Africa (18-22).

2003: Corey Flynn - Hooker Corey Flynn had only played one NPC game for Canterbury in 2002 and was back up to Mark Hammett at the Crusaders when he was picked for the All Blacks World Cup squad in 2003.

Flynn acquitted himself well making appearances in hefty wins against Canada (68-6) and Tonga (91-7) scoring a try in the latter Test. 

Flynn would go on to play 15 Test matches up until 2011. He amassed an impressive 289 first-class games between 2001 and 2017.

The 2003 season is perhaps best remembered for the stunning individual feats of Joe Rokocoko. He scored a record 17 tries in a calendar year despite having not played for Auckland in the NPC. He played 13 games and scored six tries for the triumphant Blues Super Rugby team. 

2007: Brendon Leonard - The halfback was picked for the All Blacks as a 22-year-old in 2007 despite little acknowledgment in the age group representative system. Outstanding form at club level for Morrinsville Sports, and then for Waikato, for whom he first played for in 2005 eventually saw him earn a Super Rugby contract in 2007.

The Chiefs were only sixth in Super Rugby 2007, but Léonard was included in the All Blacks for Tests off the bench against France, South Africa, and Australia. 

At the Rugby World Cup, he was a surprise selection ahead of the more established halfbacks Piri Weepu and Jimmy Cowan. 

Leonard appeared in all five matches at the World Cup with his only start the 108-13 thumping of Portugal in pool play. 

2011: Stephen Donald - The ten jersey was a poisoned chalice for the All Blacks at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Daniel Carter and Colin Slade were injured in the group stage which meant Aaron Cruden was promoted to starter for the finals. In the final against France, Cruden left the field injured and was replaced by Donald. 

Less than a year earlier Donald was dropped from the All Blacks after the loss to Australia in Hong Kong. When Donald received news of his selection, he was fly fishing on the Waikato River and missed several phone calls from coach Sir Graham Henry notifying him of his selection.

When Donald came on the field in the final, he struggled to fit the tight-hugging jersey. In the 32nd minute he kicked a penalty, the telling difference in an 8-7 win. Donald became something of a cult hero. Presently a sports broadcaster, 'The Kick' was a movie made about his World Cup heroics.

An honourable mention goes to Richard Kahui. Better known as a centre Kahui was picked as a winger ahead of the dynamic Hosea Gear. Kahui had only played one of the five All Blacks Tests prior to the tournament, an 18-5 loss to South Africa.

2015: Nehe Milner-Skudder
- The fleet-footed winger initially tried to cut his teeth in professional rugby league winning an NRL Under 20 Premiership with the Bulldogs. He switched to rugby in 2011 but injury hampered early progress. In 2014 he was good enough for Manawatū in the NPC to earn a Super Rugby contract.

In his maiden season for the Hurricanes, he was a sensation appearing in 15 of 18 matches as the Hurricanes made it to their first final since 2006.

Overlooked for the All Blacks in the early stages of the Rugby Championship he was picked for test Tests against Australia before the World Cup. He scored two tries in a 27-19 loss in Sydney which was enough to retain his place for a 41-13 win at Eden Park the following week. 

At the World Cup, he played six matches and scored six tries, including the first in the final against Australia as the All Blacks became the first team to successfully defend their World title. The Guardian rated Milner-Skudder as one of the best players in the tournament.

2019: Sevu Reece
- The Fijian winger only joined the Crusaders for Super Rugby in 2019 after Round 2 due to a season-ending injury for Manasa Mataele. 

The 22-year-old proved to be a blockbuster recruit in his debut season scoring 15 tries in 14 games as the Crusaders won a third consecutive title. 

He was picked for the All Blacks for three Tests prior to the World Cup scoring tries against Australia and Tonga. 

At the World Cup, he was the youngest All Black but started four of six matches, scoring two tries as the All Blacks finished third. 


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