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Which All Blacks Player Can Be The Next Big Thing?

After an unprecedented run of success, Father Time has finally caught up with the All Blacks.

After a decade which has seen New Zealand hoover up Tri Nations crowns, claim an inaugural Rugby Championship title and win back to back World Cups, 6 of the players central to that success have exited the international arena. As always the All Blacks will have a glittering array of understudies chomping at the bit to replace the likes of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu in the starting shirts. Their first chance to impress New Zealand’s coaching ticket will be in the Super Rugby competition, which this season has been extended to 18 sides.

Here are five current All Blacks who will be looking to have a big club campaign in order to try and secure an international starting berth.

Waisake Naholo (Highlanders)

New Zealand v Argentina - The Rugby Championship

For all the success that befell Nehe Milner-Skudder during the World Cup, those plaudits could easily have landed in the lap of this powerful winger.

Undervalued and often ignored during a two year stint with the Blues (where he played just twice), Naholo enjoyed an incredibly prolific debut season for the Highlanders. The 24 year old crossed 13 times in 18 games for the eventual Super Rugby champions, while also making 32 clean breaks and beating 57 defenders.

Naholo was so far from the All Blacks squad at the outset of 2015, that he agreed a two year deal early in the season to join Clermont from the beginning of 2015/16 campaign.

However, his form spiked and he was drafted into the international fold for the pre-World Cup Rugby Championship. The winger broke his leg on his debut against Argentina, but miraculously recovered in time to feature in the All Blacks World Cup squad just 3 months later. The winger appeared twice in the pool stage, scoring a try from half way with his first World Cup touch against Georgia.

Naholo ultimately cancelled his deal with Clermont, in order to commit to the All Blacks cause, and will be looking to add to his three caps this summer.

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Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders)

Super Rugby Qualifying Final - Sharks v Highlanders

New Zealand have been blessed for the past decade by having a steady and consistent world class centre partnership in Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu.

Plenty of understudies came and went, yet none were ever to break the midfield combination up. Following the pairs decisions to leave for France, New Zealand now have two gaping holes in their midfield positions. Sonny Bill Williams is likely to slot into the 12 jersey, but given that he’s 30 and a notorious code (and sport) hopper he may not be a long term fixture in the side.

That honour may fall to the 23 year old Fekitoa, who has spent time shadowing Smith and Nonu in the All Blacks set up.

After an excellent debut year for the Highlanders in 2014, the centre was included in the New Zealand squad for June tests that season. An explosive carrier and a punishing defender, with a thirst for big hits, his experience over the last two seasons with the All Blacks means he’ll almost certainly start this year as first choice to fill the vacuum left by Smith.

Fekitoa has amassed 13 caps to date, 6 of which have been from the bench, and the Highlander will want a good season to ensure more starts in 2016.

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Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)

Super Rugby Rd 6 - Highlanders v Hurricanes

It’s not easy to replace a legend, but that will be the unenviable task faced by New Zealand’s next number 10.

Dan Carter’s international retirement means the All Blacks will enter their first season since 2003 not knowing for certain who their first choice out half will be. Barrett will start this campaign as favourite to succeed Carter, by virtue of being the most recent back up, but with Aaron Cruden returning from a lengthy injury lay off he can ill afford any slip ups.

The 24 year old marshalled one of the most exciting Super Rugby back lines last season, but having lost the safety blanket of Smith and Nonu in the centre outside him, much of the playmaking onus will fall squarely on Barrett.

The out half has blinding pace and a real eye for the try line and such attributes have seen him become an important part of the All Black squad since he debuted in 2012. However, he’ll need to add poise to his game this term to prove to the watching national selectors that he can manage an 80 minute game.

The Hurricane has 36 caps for New Zealand, but only 8 of those have come in a starting capacity. 2016 could be the year Barrett graduates from impact sub to pivotal leader.

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Super Rugby Rd 8 - Chiefs v Bulls

If replacing Dan Carter is a daunting task, spare a thought for the man who has to follow in the footsteps of one of rugby’s greatest ever players, Richie McCaw.

The 23 year old is an outstanding player, and had he held a passport from any other country Cane would be a stand out starter in that national team already. With an impressive medal collection to his name – Junior World Cup winner 2011, Super Rugby winner 2012 & 2013 and World Cup winner 2015 – the openside will need to carry that winning mentality through to the senior national side.

Thankfully for New Zealand supporters Steve Hansen had the foresight to know McCaw wouldn’t last forever, and Cane has been an ever present in the All Blacks set up since 2012, learning the tricks of the trade from the master.

The Chief may not be as explosive a player as Ardie Savea who is being heavily touted to fill the seven jersey, but he is very much in the McCaw role of no-nonsense, hardened breakdown operator, with silky enough hands to survive in the loose.

He has complied 30 caps to date, 17 of which have been as a replacement. A strong Super Rugby campaign should see him continue to rack up the caps in 2016, but register more in the starter column.

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Codie Taylor (Crusaders)

New Zealand v Namibia - Group C: Rugby World Cup 2015

If there is one position the All Blacks have failed to produce an abundance of world class players in in recent years, it is at hooker.

They were lucky that Keven Mealamu showed such longevity in his career, while Dane Coles has come on leaps and bounds in the past year and a half. Yet if the All Blacks are going to hang their hat on a hooker who can be truly world class, it could be Codie Taylor.

The 24 year old first featured for the Crusaders in 2013, but last year was his breakout season, featuring 16 times for the famed franchise.

Taylor is a thoroughly mobile operator around the park, with the hands and the speed that wouldn’t be out of place with a back. He made a firm impact coming off the bench for the Crusaders last season, which earned him a taste of Rugby Championship action, where he scored on his debut, before being included in New Zealand’s victorious World Cup squad.

Taylor will most likely start the year behind Coles in the All Blacks pecking order, but a solid season with the Crusaders could see him adding to his 4 caps as the starting hooker.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.