As the curtain falls on New Zealand’s successful World Cup campaign, it is with sadness and excitement that we say goodbye to All-Blacks legends like Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Kevin Mealamu and Tony Woodcock and welcome in a crop of fresh talent that will look to enhance the growing reputation of the All Blacks jersey over the next four years.
Replacing world-class players is an extremely tough task in its own right, especially considering most of the players already mentioned have been arguably the best ever in their respective positions. However, Steve Hansen (if he chooses to continue on as head coach) will welcome this challenge with open arms.
Over the next few years, leading up to Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, there will no doubt be a number of exciting rising stars of the New Zealand game who will push the current squad in an attempt to crack what will be a very competitive rugby outfit.
Below is a player/position run down on the All Blacks post-2015.
Current: Owen Franks (Crusaders), Charlie Faumauina (Blues), Nepo Laulaula (Chiefs), Joe Moody (Crusaders), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders).
Challengers: Reggie Goodes (Hurricanes), Jeff Toomaga Allen (Hurricanes), Mitchell Graham (Chiefs), Pauliasi Manu (Chiefs).
Current: Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Codie Taylor (Crusaders).
Challengers: Liam Coltman (Highlanders), Rhys Marshall (Chiefs), Leni Apisai (Hurricanes).
Current: Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Brodie Rettalick (Chiefs), Luke Romano (Crusaders).
Challengers: James Broadhurst (Hurricanes), Scott Barrett (Crusaders), Patrick Tuipolotu (Blues), Dominic Bird (Chiefs).
Current: Jerome Kaino (Blues), Victor Vito (Hurricanes), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Keiran Read (Crusaders), Liam Messam (Chiefs).
Challengers: Ardie Savea (Hurricanes), Steven Luatua (Blues), Akira Ioane (Blues), Matt Todd (Crusaders), Elliot Dixon (Highlanders), Blade Thomson (Hurricanes), Blake Gibson (Blues), Brad Shields (Hurricanes), Liam Squire (Highlanders).
Current: Aaron Smith (Highlanders), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Tawera Kerr Barlow (Chiefs).
Challengers: Te Taroa Tahuriorangi (Hurricanes), Brad Webber (Chiefs), Sam Nock (Blues).
Current: Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders).
Challengers: Damian McKenzie (Chiefs), Otere Black (Hurricanes).
Current: Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs), Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders), Ryan Crotty (Crusaders).
Challengers: Rene Ranger (Blues), George Moala (Blues), Charlie Ngatai (Chiefs), Reiko Ioane (Blues), Seta Tamanivalu (Chiefs).
Current: Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Nehe Milner Skudder (Hurricanes), Ben Smith (Highlanders), Waisaki Nahalo (Highlanders).
Challengers: Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Patrick Osbourne (Highlanders), Matt Proctor (Hurricanes), James Lowe (Chiefs).
Key Players to look out for:
Ardie Savea: The Hurricanes openside is an international star in the making. Look for him to follow his big brother Julian into the All Blacks squad in 2017 after hopefully helping NZ win their first sevens gold medal in 2016.
Akira Ioane: Like Ardie, Akira is a freakish ball-carrying number 8, who will be looking to stamp his mark on New Zealand’s sevens campaign before attempting to crack the All Blacks in 2017.
Damian McKenzie: Hovering around the 80kg mark, this bloke is a lightweight with a big heart. The skillful Chiefs Fullback/First Five has talent to burn. Look for him to put pressure on the current crop of first fives.
Patrick Tuipolotu: Already made a statement in the black jersey before cruely being ruled out of New Zealand’s 2015 World Cup campaign through injury. Patrick is an oustanding locking prospect for NZ with his massive 120kg frame. Fitness will be a key factor in his performance.
So plenty of talent to look out for, All Blacks fans. Get ready for an exciting new era of New Zealand footy.
Simon van Ryn, Pundit Arena