The All Blacks have arrived in Scotland for their opening match of their 2012 Northern Hemisphere End of Year Tour. Their draw against Australia in Brisbane takes some of the shine away from the tour, as the Scotland match could have been the game they broke the world record of consecutive test wins. Instead the only record they are chasing now is the undefeated 24 match streak of the All Blacks of the late 80’s and 90’s. Regardless, the All Blacks have a proud history in Europe, where they haven’t been beaten outside of World Cups for 10 years. Their last defeat on a Northern Tour was in 2002 against England at Twickenham. That was the tour John Mitchell infamously took a development team in anticipation of the World Cup the following year.
Last week coach Steven Hansen announced his 32 match squad to contest matches against Scotland, Italy, Wales and England. There are only two new caps in the squad. Wellington’s Dane Coles and Waikato’s Tawera Kerr-Barlow occupy the third hooker and half-back spots respectively. Hansen has stated that all of the squad will get a run in the opening matches against Scotland and Italy, so they will not have to wait long for their All Blacks’ debut.
Cole’s selection means that sometime All Black hooker Hika Elliot misses out on the spot behind stalwarts Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore. The third spot is pivotal considering the advancing years of the two incumbents. The third halfback position was always expected to go to an up and coming player. However, the continued selection of Piri Weepu over Andy Ellis is causing some contention. Many believe this may be Weepu’s last chance to pay-off the selector’s faith in him after a troubled year for the World Cup hero.
In an otherwise predictable squad, the only other point of contention has been the continued faith shown in injury plagued veteran Ali Williams. Some rugby romantics had been championing the selection of Chiefs skipper Craig Clarke, but Williams was always going to have the inside running if he could make it through the closing rounds of the ITM Cup. The selectors believe Williams’ experience is invaluable in developing the current young crop of locks. They are also unwilling to take a gamble on Clarke being up to the International game.
Sam Cane continues to be the ordained back up to Richie McCaw, and his selection becomes all the more integral with the news that McCaw will take a six month sabbatical. McCaw will be unavailable for the opening domestic tests in 2013, but should be back for the 2013 Rugby Championship.
Adam Thomson continues to be selected as part of the blind side flanker triumvirate with Liam Messam and Vector Vito. However, this is sure to be Thomson’s swansong in the black jersey with news emerging this week that he has not signed with a Super Rugby team, so a move offshore is inevitable.
All Blacks Squad
Forwards: Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Wyatt Crockett, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Ali Williams, Richie McCaw (captain), Sam Cane, Kieran Read, Liam Messam, Victor Vito, Adam Thomson.
Backs: Aaron Smith, Piri Weepu, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Ma’a Nonu, Tamati Ellison, Conrad Smith, Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Hosea Gear, Julian Savea, Israel Dagg.
All Blacks 2013 Northern Tour Itinerary:
Nov 12 v Scotland, Edinburgh
Nov 18 v Italy, Rome
Nov 25 v Wales, Cardiff
Dec 2 v England, Twickenham