For the most part, the All Blacks squad that has contested the inaugural Rugby Championship looks pretty set in stone – tried and true performers who have the confidence of the selectors. There are a couple of fringe players, but the majority of the guys that have donned the black jersey in the last 8-odd weeks look set to be regular picks in the coming seasons. But while these particular players have thrived, in a country that is as rich in depth and talent as New Zealand is currently, there are inevitably those that have fallen by the wayside at the same time. Some had their chances and failed to impress, while others have been dreadfully unlucky with injuries. Here’s my All Black 15 picked from players who were once in the mix, but now seem to have dropped off the radar.
1. Jamie McIntosh 2. Hika Elliot 3. Neemia Tialata 4. Anthony Boric 5. Isaac Ross 6. George Whitelock 7. Matt Todd 8. Daniel Braid 9. Brendan Leonard 10. Colin Slade 11. Rudi Wulf 12. Ben Atiga 13. Rene Ranger 14. Richard Kahui 15. Isaia Toeava
Jamie McIntosh – When he burst on to the scene in 2004 it looked like we had found the next hulking prop to take over the mantle vacated by Carl Hayman, but his International career failed to come to anything of note, and he has been consigned to playing a prominent role in the provincial competition as leader of the Southland Stags.
Hika Elliot – Elliot is obviously still in the mix, but I can’t helping thinking that, given how long he’s been around, he has under-achieved by not having established himself as a regular in the All Blacks. With 3 caps under his belt and having been a tourist with the ABs on a number of occasions he is someone the national selectors obviously saw potential in, but, by desperately hanging on to veterans like Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore and even Corey Flynn, they’re giving a pretty clear indication that they don’t have faith in Hawkes Bay’s hooker.
Neemia Tialata – Now Tialata did establish himself, becoming a prominent fixture in teams as recently as 3-4 years ago. But he quickly dropped out of the frame as the Franks brothers developed, and while only in his early 30s he is now plying his trade in Europe.
Anthony Boric – Boric had plenty of opportunities, and although injury also played its part, he simply failed to capitalise on those opportunities, allowing youngsters like Sam Whitelock, and now Retallick and Romano, to take over from Ali Williams and Chris Jack, a position he himself was in line for.
Isaac Ross – One of the players that embodies what this team is about! He stormed on to the scene, playing 8 tests in a break-out season, and even being given the responsibility of calling the lineouts in his first season in the black jersey. But his physical limitations soon became apparent, and, as quickly as he had arrived on the scene he was gone again, flirting with three different Super franchises before disappearing to Japan.
George Whitelock – Whitelock is a player who has never quite lived up to the reputation he brought with him when he first appeared as a professional player. Having captained New Zealand at under-age level he was widely tipped to become a prominent All Black, but since making his debut off the bench in 2009 he hasn’t featured in the national side, with brother Sam quickly surpassing his own achievements.
Matt Todd – Todd may still scale the lofty heights of international rugby, but I’ve included him here because he came agonisingly close to doing just that, before appearing to drop swiftly out of the reckoning. Had Richie McCaw been forced to pull out of the Rugby World Cup Todd would almost certainly have found himself in the squad, and probably wearing the 7 jersey, but now, not even a year down the track, he is in the wilderness, with young Sam Cane getting the nod ahead of him, and little mention of his name by new All Black coach Steve Hansen and his staff.
Daniel Braid – For want of a genuine number 8 I’ve thrown in Dan Braid, who I’m sure can do the job for my side! Braid had more than his fair share of opportunities, but in the end it became apparent that he was a very sound Super Rugby player, making valuable contributions to both the Blues and the Reds, but was not quite test-calibre.
Brendan Leonard – Leonard arrived on the scene in the mid-2000s, and it’s somewhat ironic that while he was once the young upstart pushing the established Byron Kelleher for a starting jersey at Waikato, he is now struggling to get the nod ahead of up-and-comer Tawera Kerr-Barlow. He had his opportunities in the black jersey, but failed to do enough with them to establish himself as a regular.
Colin Slade – Slade’s unlucky to be here; indeed, he was in line to shroud himself in world cup glory before yet another injury cruelly ruled him out. But, while he’s been recovering from numerous set-backs Beauden Barrett has burst in to the mix, and Slade now sits, at best, in fourth, behind Barrett, Cruden and the incumbent Carter.
Rudi Wulf – When Wulf got his opportunity in the black jersey the wing positions in the All Blacks were up for grabs. But he failed to set the world on fire, and at just 28 is unlikely to ever represent New Zealand again, having opted to continue his career in France.
Ben Atiga – Atiga had a legion of fans in the Auckland rugby community, and was touted as the next big thing by many. Called in to the 2003 World Cup squad he ended up playing just one test, before retiring from rugby in 2008 at the tender age of 26.
Rene Ranger – Ranger’s the Vice-Captain of my team, and is one of the guys who ticks all my selection criteria! On his day he is unbelievable, and obviously has the skills and natural attributes to play at international level. But his lack of professionalism, both on and off the field, has curtailed that international career, and it remains to be seen whether he will get another chance in the black jersey, or will forever represent a classic case of ‘what might have been’.
Richard Kahui – Kahui, like Colin Slade, has been desperately unlucky with injuries. Every time he dons the black jersey he looks good, but those occasions are so infrequent that we really don’t know whether he can consistently deliver at the top level or not. A lack of depth in the All Black midfield at the moment might provide Kahui with another opportunity in the future, but every month players in this talent-rich country sit on the sidelines injured is another month when the next big thing might break out and take the opportunity themselves.
Isaia Toeava – The captain of my team! This IRB Junior Player of the Year was former national coach Wayne Smith’s ‘pet project’ and has incredible talent. He was often outstanding at Super level, yet seemed to choke under the weight of expectation when taking the field for the All Blacks. Toeava had all the natural attributes to make him a great All Black, but, while only in his mid-20s now, it looks all-but-certain that his test playing days are over. So there’s the starting line-up for my ‘Where Are They Now XV’, and I must say it’s a solid looking squad – in fact, I reckon they’d give the Wallabies a touch up!