Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Five new caps in our form team

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.  Photo / Sarah Ivey
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. Photo / Sarah Ivey

All Black selections usually create vibrant debate.

Those public discussions became less robust in recent years as the panel rarely veered away from those they saw as World Cup contenders.

Now the Webb Ellis Cup has been claimed and some All Blacks have headed to overseas contracts or been injured, vacancies have opened in the squad.

Mils Muliaina, Stephen Donald, Brad Thorn and John Afoa are playing offshore, Isaia Toeava, Colin Slade, Jerome Kaino and Anthony Boric are sidelined with injury.

There are others - such as Jimmy Cowan, Piri Weepu, Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu - who would struggle to make the national squad on form halfway through the Super 15.

All Black captain Richie McCaw may return for the Crusaders from the bench this weekend and when he plays will have to take his chances in the voting. And that's the whole point of this Herald selection, it is a side picked on form not pedigree.

These are the players who have excelled and been picked in a weekly Super 15 team.

New coaches Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox will reveal their group next month for the side's initial tests in June against Ireland.

But if those games were brought forward, five players would make their test debuts this week.

Fullback Andre Taylor, wing Tim Nanai-Williams, halfback Aaron Smith, lock Brodie Retallick and tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina would pull on their skintight black uniform for the first time. Taylor, Retallick and Faumuina topped the votes for their positions, Nanai-Williams earned plaudits on both wings while Smith shared the ballot with Andy Ellis.

Smith polled well at the start of the competition but Ellis has caught him with four selections in the last five weeks. However after lengthy, earnest and well-reasoned deliberations the Herald picked Smith because he was a new face.

There were several other selection stalemates on the left wing, openside flanker and loosehead prop.

Again after exhaustive discussions, Hosea Gear was picked on the wing ahead of Rudi Wulf and Zac Guildford, Tanerau Latimer got the nod ahead of Daniel Braid while Tony Woodcock shaded Jamie Mackintosh.

Rationale? Gear can be more explosive, Latimer is prettier and Woodcock has been a brick in every one of his games since his late return.

Chiefs teammates Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams polled the highest with six selections after nine rounds just ahead of Highlanders flanker Adam Thomson who missed one round through injury.

A sprinkling of World Cup All Blacks such as the Franks brothers were occasional weekly choices but because of alternating selections or inconsistency have not made the cut.

Others have not registered a vote.

Ma'a Nonu has missed out because of a series of issues. He made a late start and slow burn in the series after playing in Japan, Williams has been in strong form and Daniel Carter showed out last weekend. Others such as the Irish-bound Cowan, Weepu, McCaw, Williams and Mealamu have yet to trouble the Herald panel.

FORM XV
15 - Andre Taylor
14 - Tim Nanai-Williams
13 - Richard Kahui
12 - Sonny Bill Williams
11 - Hosea Gear
10 - Aaron Cruden
9 - Aaron Smith
8 - Kieran Read
7 - Tanerau Latimer
6 - Adam Thomson
5 - Brodie Retallick
4 - Sam Whitelock
3 - Charlie Faumuina
2 - Andrew Hore
1 - Tony Woodcock

- NZ Herald

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