There it was, a booming heading: "Top 10 powerhouses heading to Japan" — and not one of them an All Black.
The Daily Mail listed South African mountain Eben Etzebeth, Fijians Alivereti Raka and Levani Botia, England's Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi (fine old English names, probably trace their lineage back to Oliver Cromwell…), Australia's Taniela Tupou, Tonga's Ben Tameifuna, Wales' George North and France's Louis Picamoles as the biggest beasts.
For many New Zealanders, this is a bit of an insult; we like to think we rate highly when it comes to physical players and 'enforcers' in world rugby. To have no one named in a top 10 of "incredible physical specimens" who can "break a game open" is a bit like questioning Buck Shelford's manhood.
But there's probably no better indication of the way the All Blacks will play at Japan's World Cup. This All Black squad is all about breaking a game open by other means — the speed they play the game, individual pace, offloads, support play, turnovers and playmakers all over the pitch. It strongly suggests the dual playmaker strategy will be used against South Africa in the All Blacks' first foray in the World Cup.
There are few All Blacks who rate highly on the "powerhouse" scale. Brodie Retallick is a notable omission — he is more mobile and athletic than Etzebeth. Liam Squire might also have figured if he was there.
So there is still that lingering doubt, especially after Luke Jacobson's invaliding home and still no sign of Squire. Many All Black fans will be feeling that little fluttering in the belly, that cold hand round the gut that precedes throwing up. It's a worry…
That first clash with the Boks is by no means the be-all and end-all of this World Cup but it will be a fascinating, revealing clash of philosophies.
We know what the Springboks will bring — giants and gigantic physical effort, especially in defence, seeking to smother All Black creativity and spark turnovers for counter-attack. They have been using warm-up matches to practise playing without the ball to prepare for the All Blacks' style — and will target the All Black lineout.
Some theorists suggest starting Tuipulotu with Scott Barrett at No 6, with Ardie Savea and another loosie on the bench. Interesting but…nah…that's playing the Springboks' game. Sure, the Boks will look to upset an All Black lineout weakened by the absence of Retallick and jumpers not of skyscraper dimensions. It's another worry but you have to figure the All Blacks will have worked on lineout variations.
Many point to the size of big lumps like Bok flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, a hulking 1.98m and 120kg, and they have three others — Etzebeth, Franco Mostert and Duane Vermuelen who either hit the 2m mark or threaten it. Some also complain this All Blacks squad (minus Owen Franks, Squire and Retallick) doesn't have the necessary nasty.
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Big deal; the All Blacks are clearly gearing up to play an expansive game — or to make it seem they will be. If there is one place in the world where enforcers and brutal play will be carefully scrutinised and swiftly punished, it is the knockout phases of World Cup rugby.
And let's face it — du Toit isn't the fastest thing on two legs and isn't a ball player like Savea and Kieran Read. Vermeulen is as tough as they come and favoured to get the ball over the gain line but, on the evidence of Super Rugby this year, he has slowed up a bit.
Still and all, the All Blacks' build-up matches (that 36-0 hiding of Australia aside) didn't always convince. The suspicion is they may not yet have found a consistent way to beat rush defences and the smothering breakdown play that South Africa and England, for example, may be able to employ.
Meanwhile the All Blacks have been so pointedly underlining their attacking intentions that the prospect of a bluff remains a possibility.
Cast your mind back to the tour of Europe last year, and the All Blacks' resurgence after being down 15-0 to England just before halftime. They tightened, drove up the middle, a lot of pick-and-go, close-quarter stuff which dragged in the England defence and dragged themselves back into calculations.
Most think England were bigger than the All Blacks that day. The All Blacks actually outweighed England (though much of that was due to Karl Tuinukuafe's 130+kg and this time they are without him, Retallick, Squire and Franks).
The point is, this All Black team can play the game different ways. They have options. Someone once said, "Don't make plans, make options" — and that appears to be what they have done.
So while the dual playmakers XV might be favoured to start, they could yet opt for a more conventional line-up — like Beauden Barrett at 10, Sonny Bill at 12 for his defence and offloads and Jordie Barrett on the wing with George Bridge, Ben Smith at fullback. Jordie Barrett would be chosen for his high ball talents and his long-range goalkicking, handy at a World Cup.
That team would have a stronger kicking game and good kick-receive credentials. There might be only three or four positional or personnel changes but significant change of gameplan.
They would also have the option of dual playmakers for the last 20-30 minutes, with Mo'unga coming off the bench and Barrett moving to fullback, replacing Smith — with Reece also on the bench, primed for an all-out 20-minute spell. The latter has shown some defensive naivete so far and has still not experienced a top-class kicking bombardment.
However, if the All Blacks pull off the dual playmaker gambit, they will have shown that they might not have "powerhouses" — but they can bring the house down.
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