As Steve Hansen’s decision to introduce Rieko Ioane against the Lions last year showed, the All Blacks coach is not afraid of testing young talent on the biggest stage in world rugby.
With the World Cup two seasons away, we take a look at five prodigious talents who will be on Hansen’s 2018 All Black selection shortlist this time around.
5. Caleb Clarke
Caleb Clarke is the son of former All Black Eroni Clarke, and was recently voted Player of the Tournament in the Brisbane 10s, which his new Super Rugby team, the Blues, won. It will be interesting to see how the powerful and pacy rookie measures up in the talent-laden Blues backline alongside world-class players like Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane.
The Blues have underwhelmed in their recent history, but if Tana Umaga’s stars can gel, Clarke may join his father as a Super Rugby champion, and an All Black.
4. Alex Fidow
The second big half of the Wellington Hurricanes’ ‘Bash Brothers’ alongside the blockbusting hooker Asafo Aumua. Fidow began his rugby career in high school in the backline, but his incredible weight gain – tipping the scales at 142kg when he was 16 – meant that the front row would eventually become his natural habitat.
Fidow now weighs some 20kgs less, and has just starred in the Wellington Hurricanes’ run to the finals of the Brisbane 10s. The 20-year-old had an exceptional season in 2017, being part of the World Cup-winning under-20 All Black side and if he can improve his scrummaging to match his explosive running game, the odds are short on him being in black at some point this season.
3. Braydon Ennor
There’s more than a reminder of All Black great John Kirwan when you watch 20-year-old Braydon Ennor in action. Another cog in the under-20 All Black machine, Ennor made every post a winner in his rookie season in the National Provincial Championship, scoring ten tries on the left wing and has secured a two-year contract with the reigning Super Rugby champions, the Crusaders.
Ennor can also play centre and this versatility may mark him out as a real prospect for the All Blacks, especially as they have lost some of their best utility players to European clubs, such as Seta Tamanivalu and George Moala.
2. Stephen Perofeta
Perofeta’s stock rose when the No. 2 fly-half in New Zealand rugby Lima Sopoaga announced he was leaving southern shores to join Wasps. Perofeta will join Caleb Clarke at the Auckland Blues, and while a recently broken hand will limit his initial involvement, expect him to showcase his excellent all-round game as he seeks to battle Richie Mo’unga and Damian McKenzie for the second fly-half position behind Beauden Barrett.
The 20-year-old has the nerve for the big occasion, turning in a promising performance in his first-class debut against no less than the British and Irish Lions, and stepping in as a replacement for the under-20 World Cup final in Georgia in which he scored a record 26 points.
1. Will Jordan
Poise, pace and positioning are three qualities Will Jordan has in abundance. Another under-20 Baby Black champion and was nominated as Player of the Tournament ahead of the four other players in this list.
He’ll be battling against the likes of Israel Dagg, David Havili and Ennor for game time at the Crusaders, but in this case class will rise to the top.