New Zealand will be without a number of World Cup winners this summer.
As New Zealand celebrated their World Cup success in Twickenham last Autumn, the rest of the rugby world clung to the hope that the multitude of retirements the All Blacks were about to suffer would make them vulnerable.
Few sides could compete on the international stage if players such as Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith all retired in quick succession. In addition, it seemed to some that Steve Hansen’s hands would be tied further after it was announced that Sonny Bill Williams was to join New Zealand’s sevens side and Nehe Milner Skudder would miss the remainder of the Super Rugby season with a dislocated shoulder.
As a result, Hansen will have to rebuild much of his backline for New Zealand’s test with Wales in June. However if the early rounds of Super Rugby have shown us anything, it is that Hansen has an array of talent from which to select from.
While both Aaron and Ben Smith will be expected to bookend Hansen’s selection at scrum half and full back, the remainder of the backline is arguably open to massive competition. This is particularly the case at fly half where Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett will battle it out to replace Carter.
Meanwhile the form of Charlie Ngatai should see him replace Nonu at 12, while Malakai Fekitoa has been earmarked for stardom at outside centre.
Although Julian Savea has recently been dropped from the Hurricanes starting line up, it would be a surprise not to see him retain his place against Wales, with Waisake Naholo partnering him on the opposite wing.
- Aaron Smith
- Lima Sopoaga
- Julian Savea
- Charlie Ngatai
- Malakai Fekitoa
- Waisake Naholo
- Ben Smith
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
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