Graham Henry has named a Richie McCaw-led 2011 Rugby World Cup squad heavy in experience but with a splash of youth. The squad of 30 has a combined 1,133 caps, making it the most experienced All Black squad ever assembled. However, it will be the first World Cup for 18 of the squad.
Twelve players have World Cup experience, with five of those players playing their third consecutive World Cup. Those players are Richie McCaw, Daniel Carter, Keven Mealamu, Mils Muliaina and Ali Williams. Corey Flynn, Ma’a Nonu and Brad Thorn missed out on the 2007 World Cup but played in 2007. Tony Woodcock, Andy Ellis, Conrad Smith and Isaia Toeava play in their second World Cup having played in 2007.
There were some notable omissions to the All Black squad. Hosea Gear, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Liam Messam, Jarrad Hoeata and Wyatt Crockett have all featured heavily in 2011, but all missed the thirty-man cut. Gear, who was the form winger at the end of last year, and Sivivatu a 46 test veteran still capable of breaking a game open, have both paid the price for an ultra competitive outside back battle.
In the end, Zac Guildford and Cory Jane, even though he also covers fullback at Super Rugby level, are the only specialist wings in the squad. Other than Mils Muliaina at fullback, the other outside backs Israel Dagg and Isaia Toeava can be considered utlities. Centre Richard Kahui can also cover wing.
Victor Vito is the closest this All Black squad has to a bolter. He was called in late to South Africa last week and only played 11 minutes off the bench. However, Liam Messam did not meet the coaches expectations and that gave Vito, who is bigger and more of a lineout option, an opening.
The squad is largely picked on form, with only Tony Woodcock and Anthony Boric arguably being faith-based selections. Woodcock has still not recaptured his form after missing most of this season with injury, but as New Zealand’s most capped prop he will be given as many chances as possible. Boric was only cleared by medical staffto take part in the last couple of days.
New Zealand are in Pool A of the 2011 World Cup, along with Tonga, France, Japan and Canada. Tonga and New Zealand play the opening game of the 2011 Rugby World Cup on Friday September the 9th at Eden Park in Auckland.
This is the first time New Zealand has hosted the Rugby World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1987, which the All Blacks won. However, despite often going into tournaments as favourites, they have not won since and made their only other final in 1995. There will be intense pressure on the team to end the 24 year drought at home.
New Zealand Rugby World Cup 2011 Squad:
Forwards: John Afoa, Anthony Boric, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (captain), Keven Mealamu, Kieran Read, Adam Thomson, Brad Thorn, Victor Vito, Sam Whitelock, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock.
Backs: Daniel Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Israel Dagg, Andy Ellis, Zac Guildford, Cory Jane, Richard Kahui, Mils Muliaina, Ma’a Nonu, Colin Slade, Conrad Smith, Isaia Toeava, Piri Weepu, Sonny Bill Williams.