2019 Rugby Almanack, Edited by Clive Akers, Geoff Miller and Adrian Hill; Upstart Press Ltd $50.
Shane Hurndell

The New Zealand Rugby Almanack is spot on with its assessment of Hawke's Bay Magpies speedster Jonah Lowe.

When ranking Lowe among the country's wingers worthy of mention the almanack editors, Clive Akers, Geoff Miller and Hawke's Bay Rugby Union historian Adrian Hill, suggested Lowe's best position might actually be centre. Yes, Lowe is a class act at centre but he has a better chance of progressing further on the wing where he scored five tries in 11 appearances for the Magpies last year and three in three outings for the Māori All Blacks.

Lowe, 22, is one of those gifted natural players who is comfortable wherever he is placed as proved during the Magpies' 2017 campaign when he made five starts at centre and three on the wing for the Magpies. The Clive club player has a better chance of getting game time on the wing for the Hurricanes than at centre, so it will be a surprise if Lowe isn't used on the wing for the Magpies more than at centre again this season.

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As expected Hawke's Bay-contracted All Black lock Brodie Retallick, who is still the best in his position on the planet, has made the Almanack's New Zealand XV. Last season's Magpies fullback JJ Taulagi deserved his mention among the country's better fullbacks.

Magpies halfback Brad Weber got the praise he deserved following his successful return from a fractured femur. Magpies captain and hooker Ash Dixon received the appropriate kudos for his contribution to the Highlanders last season.

Hawke's Bay's sole Black Fern, Krysten Cottrell, must be considered unlucky not to have been named as the starting pivot or on the subs' bench in the Almanack's women's New Zealand XV after starting in the Black Ferns' last two tests of the year and playing as a sub in the first three. It was pleasing to see Cottrell praised for her efforts for the Hawke's Bay Tui.

The Almanack's editors were right to question why the country's best fullback, Highlanders co-captain Ben Smith, is not played in the No 15 jersey more for the All Blacks.

"Ben Smith is still the premier fullback in the country and it is odd that the best fullback in the country should play the majority of his tests on the wing, when in particular he does not have the top end pace normally associated with the wing position, but that is how the test year panned out," the Almanack said.

The Almanack, which was released earlier this month, again more than maintained its reputation as a vital Bible for the game.