Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: It's time to check new wave of All Blacks talent

Blues wing-cum-midfielder Rieko Ioane is  in the frame for a call-up. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Blues wing-cum-midfielder Rieko Ioane is in the frame for a call-up. Photo / Mark Mitchell

So far 2016 has been about the next generation All Blacks. For the remainder of the year, there will be a chance for the selectors to have a look at the next, next rugby generation.

The All Blacks are planning to take 36 players to the US and Europe in November and with a party that size, they have room to throw a few wildcards into their mix when they announce the group on Sunday.

This has always been their plan - to take a bigger squad north to get a feel for a few players who they don't yet know too much about.

Specifically, it is a chance to expose younger, emerging players to the demands of being an All Black to see if they are mentally and physically set up to cope. A year after a World Cup is the time to begin rebuilding to ensure the squad is regenerating before the next tournament.

Top of that list is Blues wing-cum-midfielder Rieko Ioane. He is almost certainly in the frame for a call-up having been drafted temporarily into the Rugby Championship squad as injury cover.

The coaches have had their eye on him all year and had long ear-marked him as a player of interest. At 1.92m and 104kg, he's a thrilling specimen with the pace, agility and ball skills to play the high tempo, continuity game the All Blacks are employing.

Who else joins him depends largely on how the coaches want to balance their squad and in which positions they feel they need to deepen their options.

Hooker will be on their agenda as following the season-ending injury to Nathan Harris, they have effectively been working with just two - Dane Coles and Codie Taylor. James Parsons and Liam Coltman have been drafted in at different times but the end of year tour may be the time for the coaches to experiment.

They may look to take Coltman and maybe one other in an apprentice capacity: that is, being on the tour more to train and learn than play.

Hurricanes hooker Ricky Riccitelli would fit that bill perfectly but the coaches may not feel they have the luxury of taking four hookers.

They will no doubt be conscious, too, that Charlie Faumuina may already have signed with Toulouse and Owen Franks is considering his options offshore and that the All Blacks could lose both their tight-heads after the Lions tour next year.

The injured Nepo Laulala is probably the long term successor if either does leave so the coaches may wait for him to return next year before they start trying to develop their other options.

Vaea Fifita - who is now eligible after serving his residency requirements - and Taleni Seu have been on the radar as players who can cover lock and loose forward.

Both are promising but probably Steven Luatua sits ahead of them as a hybrid option and the Blues player, who won 13 caps in 2013-2014, is a contender to be recalled after he finished strongly in Super Rugby.

His ability to play No8 and blindside as well as lock gives him versatility the All Blacks can cleverly utilise from the bench and he's also an athlete with the potential to contribute both on attack and defence.

Anton Lienert-Brown would have been in line for a call-up had he not already been drafted in to cover for the injury crises in the midfield and played as brilliantly as he has.

- NZ Herald

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