Is This Go­ing to be the All Blacks Start­ing XV in 2018?

NZ Rugby World - - The Breakdown -

15 Jordie BAR­RETT The 21-year-old made the most im­pres­sive start to his test ca­reer when he de­liv­ered an ac­com­plished per­for­mance against the Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lions.

At 1.95m, he is a weapon in the air, kicks long out of hands, can kick for goal as well and is a thump­ing de­fender. Has the pace and agility to play in the mid­field but the All Blacks like his skill set at full­back.

14 Ben SMITH Has played most of his test foot­ball on the right wing but, of course, can play su­perbly at full­back, too. He’s a su­perb foot­baller with a cool head.

Bril­liant in the air, and his ex­pe­ri­ence could be vi­tal in guid­ing and men­tor­ing a young back three.

13 Ryan CROTTY He’s calm, ex­pe­ri­enced and ma­ture and be­cause of that, Crotty has the con­fi­dence to run hard and straight and make good de­ci­sions.

He’s a neat dis­trib­u­tor but his best skills are his de­fen­sive sta­bil­ity and abil­ity to pick smart run­ning lines.

12 Sonny Bill WIL­LIAMS He re­turned from a bad in­jury last year, which meant he got bet­ter and bet­ter as he built his con­fi­dence and speed.

De­fended with real ag­gres­sion and power that made him a vast pres­ence and by the end of the year, his of­fload­ing game was back on song and prov­ing to be hugely ef­fec­tive.

11 Rieko IOANE Fin­ished the sea­son as the best wing in the world. He has pace and he has power and he also has good feet, aware­ness and skills.

It was his pace though that hurt teams be­cause de­spite be­ing so tall, he can ac­cel­er­ate from a stand­ing start.

10 Beau­den BAR­RETT The world’s best player and best first-five. Ev­ery­one knows what he brings – deadly pace, strong game man­age­ment and the abil­ity to con­jure some­thing out of noth­ing.

9 Aaron SMITH Was back to his best last year and showed he was miles ahead of TJ Per­e­nara. Is be­com­ing a more ma­ture de­ci­sion-maker and is ca­pa­ble of dic­tat­ing the strat­egy as well as Bar­rett.

8 Kieran READ He has been a re­mark­ably ef­fi­cient and good leader since he as­sumed the ti­tle per­ma­nently. He’s also be­come one of the best de­fen­sive No 8s in the world as well as the best li­ne­out tech­ni­cian.

7 Sam CANE Has be­come a bruis­ing force in the world game. He’s upped his weight and now tack­les with gen­uine fe­roc­ity.

Hits hard and car­ries hard – is a dif­fer­ent No 7 to Richie McCaw but ev­ery­one is get­ting used to that and be­gin­ning to love him for be­ing him­self.

6 Liam SQUIRE Had to share the role a lit­tle bit with Vaea Fi­fita last year but that is un­likely to hap­pen so much in 2018.

Squire is a dom­i­nant tack­ler and a supremely ath­letic ball car­rier. Comes with a de­gree of edge that makes him will­ing to put him­self about.

5 Sam WHITE­LOCK Big Sam had a ter­rific sea­son in 2017 and looks ready to carry that on this year. He is a nat­u­ral ball win­ner and rock-solid scrum­mager while he also gets about the field pretty well.

4 Brodie RE­TAL­LICK He is the en­gine of the pack – an ab­so­lute beast of a man who is al­ways on hand to smash the ball up the mid­dle of the park and dam­age teams.

Plays like a loose for­ward but with the im­pact of some­one much big­ger.

3 Owen FRANKS Franks is hop­ing that his Achilles is go­ing to be­have fol­low­ing surgery and he is go­ing to be able to pick up where he left off last year.

He’s prob­a­bly the best scrum­mager in the world and he has de­vel­oped his run­ning game to sur­pris­ing levels.

2 Dane COLES Has bat­tled with in­jury in the last 16 months but when he re­turns from knee surgery, should be hun­gry and ready to es­tab­lish him­self as the most dy­namic and cre­ative hooker in the world game.

He per­forms his core roles with an un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated ac­cu­racy as well.

1 Joe MOODY An­other to suf­fer the dreaded in­jury curse last year just as he was show­ing a whole new range of tricks.

A tough man who has a stun­ning turn of pace and a nat­u­ral abil­ity to play with the ball.

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