Rugby: Five to go as ABs go in for the cull

All Black Andy Ellis.  Photo / Greg Bowker
All Black Andy Ellis. Photo / Greg Bowker

Narrowing the wider training squad from 35 to 30 is the easy part of the selection challenge for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. The hard bit will be getting the right 22 to face a feisty Irish onslaught at Eden Park.

Confirmation will come today as to who has been culled, with Luke Whitelock, Brad Shields and Tawera Kerr-Barlow almost certain to be let go, while Charlie Faumuina was already out of contention due to injury.

The last casualty depends on whether Hansen wants the luxury of three halfbacks. If not, and it's likely that he doesn't, then it is likely Andy Ellis will be heading home. It would be harsh, given Ellis' cracking form, but Hansen is thought to be keen on one senior No 9 working with Aaron Smith, and Piri Weepu is deemed to offer more than Ellis. It will go down poorly with many fans, given Ellis' sparkling display against the Highlanders on Friday.

If the coach wants three No 9s, then it probably comes down to either Zac Guildford or Hosea Gear missing the cut, as there is ample cover with Julian Savea and genuine utilities in Ben Smith and Tamati Ellison.

Sonny Bill Williams could even be used on the wing again as during the World Cup. If Hansen is worried about the lack of experience available there, then perhaps Beauden Barrett will be cut, as he's unlikely to see much game time ahead of Dan Carter and Aaron Cruden.

Getting the right mix in the back three will be crucial, as the weather will no doubt be inclement and the Irish happy to stick the ball high and see if New Zealand can deal with it.

Israel Dagg is a must at fullback and, with the All Blacks wary of the aerial threat,Smith may be used on the right wing and Savea on the left- a trio light on experience but the relevant skills would be there and the attacking potential considerable.

Conrad Smith and Williams should be given first crack at the midfield, as Ma'a Nonu is expected to be used only sparingly due to the elongated workload caused by his Japanese sabbatical.

Aaron Smith and Carter are the inside combination that will be impossible to resist and Victor Vito's form is likely to see him join Richie McCaw and Kieran Read in the backrow. Hansen's incredible faith in Ali Williams is likely to see the test veteran win his 74th cap alongside Sam Whitelock, and Owen Franks, Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock will most probably resume their front rowduties together.

The bench depends partly on the injury status of Keven Mealamu. If he's deemed fit, he'll be there. If not, Hika Elliot will be, with Ben Franks' versatility winning him the third propping spot. Brodie Retallick will cover lock and Adam Thomson loose forward.

Weepu will be given his chance to repay the faith and his versatility creates potential to mix the remaining options. Ellison is a must given his ability to cover 12 to 15 and even 10 at a push. If the selectors have faith that Weepu could play at 10 if required, then potentially Nonu will be on the bench ahead of Cruden.

Possible All Black
22 for Eden Park

Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Victor Vito, Ali Williams, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.

Reserves: Keven Mealamu/Hika Elliot, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, and Tamati Ellison.

- Herald on Sunday

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