Bolters for northern tour
again travel north of the equator.
In addition to Smith, Dagg and Cruden being out of the picture, Steven Luatua and Charlie Faumuina are now earning a living with clubs in the northern hemisphere and Owen Franks, Joe Moody and Liam Coltman are out for the remainder of the year because of injuries.
Elliot Dixon has struggled to recapture his form from last year, George Moala has also been unable to generate much traction during an injury-interrupted term with Auckland and Malakai Fekitoa will soon join French club Toulon. It remains to be seen whether Julian Savea can convince the selectors he has done enough with Wellington to reignite his test career.
The return of Nehe MilnerSkudder, who spent most of last year rehabilitating from injury, and the arrival of David Havili will bolster the outside back stocks and Northland centre Jack Goodhue, on standby during the series against the British and Irish Lions this winter, could be poised to earn his first cap.
The plan to replace halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow remains hazy. Kerr-Barlow leaves for France at the end of the year, yet the selectors have steadfastly stuck by him and could invite him to join Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara as their touring No 9s.
Eight back-rowers were selected for last year’s tour. The departure of Luatua has been offset to a degree by the arrival of Vaea Fifita who can cover No 6 and lock, and maybe Wellington’s Brad Shields could get a look in given Dixon’s star appears to have faded.
Who will back up No 8 and captain Kieran Read if he gets injured remains a grey area. Luatua is gone, and although Ardie Savea was used in the position against Samoa in the first test this year he could hardly be considered a veteran in the job.
Wellington tighthead prop Jeff To’omaga-Allen could add to the test cap he earned against Japan in 2013, while the uncapped Tasman loosehead Tim Perry may also be asked to shore up the depleted propping stocks.
The apprentice scheme has been used sparingly by Hansen, but with some success. Jordie Barrett quickly fulfilled his promise this year and Ardie Savea was also inducted into the international system by being asked to be a non-playing tourist in 2013.
Hookers are not in short supply. Still, maybe Wellington hooker Asafo Aumua would be a worthy candidate for the look-but-don’ttouch scheme.
Richie Mo’unga is tough, kicks well and can direct an attack.