The All Black squad is announced tomorrow and here are some thoughts on its likely make-up:
* Ali Williams will be in the 'Bloody Lucky' category if he is there.
* Adam Thomson will be in the 'Bloody Unlucky' category if he isn't.
* Piri Weepu will be in the 'Exceptionally Bloody Lucky' category if he is selected.
* Dane Coles should be the third hooker.
* Andy Ellis and Tawera Kerr-Barlow should be the second and third halfbacks.
* There's a few props with a lot to prove after last week.
Thomson first - there's some gossip that he might be missing if he has decided to go overseas and they leave him at home as a result. I'd be upset on his behalf if that was the case. He has done everything asked of him, at ITM Cup, Super Rugby and All Black level - he has starred for Otago and has never let the All Blacks down, playing well in that tight test against Ireland at the start of the season.
The All Blacks were quick to hook Sonny Bill Williams back when he was going to Japan, so why can't they do the same for Thomson? You're not gone until you're gone and he has been a fine servant for New Zealand rugby; he deserves a trip on form and ability.
I can't say the same for Ali Williams. He's certainly got ability but we haven't seen that for some time now. He'll be very lucky if he gets the nod after playing so infrequently, only coming back in last night's ITM Cup final. All right, he brings to the table something that others don't - experience. But this All Black team have done well with three relatively inexperienced locks in Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick - and look where Retallick was about 12 months ago. He was doing well to get game time with the Bay.
For my money, you leave Williams at home and take Dominic Bird, the young Canterbury lock who has been one of the form players in the ITM Cup. He's only 21 and has no Super Rugby experience, sure, but you take him away, give him a taste of it and develop him on tour - it's not unheard of. He's over 2m, 112kg and his style seems to fit the All Blacks; he's good at kick-offs, lineouts, ball-carrying and offloads and the tough stuff at the breakdowns. There are other candidates like the Taranaki trio of James Broadhurst, Jarrad Hoeata and Craig Clarke, plus Wellington's Jeremy Thrush. But I am not sure the last-named is an All Black, Clarke has been subbed off a lot by Taranaki and the other two have been shuttled into loose forward a lot - and I don't think they have Bird's form anyway.
The third hooker is probably the most important selection as it is likely neither Keven Mealamu nor Andrew Hore will be at the next World Cup and that's how you have to think of it. Hika Elliot has some claims but on form you'd have to go for Coles.
As for Weepu, well, I thought the fact he wasn't in the Auckland team for the ITM Cup final spoke volumes. You contrast that with Tony Brown and his coaching team at Otago who grabbed every All Black they could to bolster their team for their final. Weepu missing out just says to me that he doesn't have the mana with either the coaching team or the players right now.
Andy Ellis should get his spot. He's had a fine season even though he's dropped out of the All Blacks this year. He's been consistently good and accurate at Super Rugby and ITM Cup level while, frankly, Weepu hasn't been. If I was a selector, I wouldn't take him on tour.
As for the front row, I expected our guys up front to dominate the Australians but they didn't. It's the old story - if you take the field against a group of guys expecting to get their arses kicked and it doesn't happen, well, they grow an extra six inches, don't they? They did particularly well at the breakdown and on defence and - the oldest of all the old cliches - it all starts up front.
I thought Tony Woodcock had an ordinary game and Charlie Faumuina wasn't convincing. He's got some work to do and I'd say Ben Franks not only needs to show his wares on tour, he also needs a big Super Rugby season if he's to avoid becoming a part of history.
There are a lot of young props around now, like Wellington's Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen, who are starting to push hard and who will have the next World Cup in mind.By Richard Loe Email Richard