Maybe the most interesting aspect of the All Blacks' World Cup squad selection is that it was received with an air of relative calm and quiet acceptance – although the Owen Franks axing was a bit of a shock.
Even then, aside from Ngani Laumape's omission (more of him later; I believe he should have made it ahead of Ryan Crotty), most greeted the squad with equanimity.
It was a bit weird. It's like going to a boxing match and seeing the two fighters decide the winner by a debate on fluoridation … far more civilised but more than slightly unreal. I mean, we are among the world's more knowledgeable and opinionated (they are not necessarily the same thing) rugby fans; past World Cups have seen the paranoia emerge big time.
Last time, in 2015, the questioning of the selection and coaching panel reached a screeching crescendo. When the All Blacks had brought home the Cup in back-to-back triumphs, one small post-mortem of all the fuss beforehand perhaps outlined it best.
One senior media commentator, at one time or another in the 2015 build-up, managed to recommend the All Black careers of the following players should be ended pre-World Cup: Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith, Jerome Kaino, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock.
Just a tiny bit of talent there – all bar Woodcock played in the 2015 World Cup final and all started except for Mealamu. Nope, sack 'em … too old. Oh, what's that shiny thing you're carrying, Richie?
There's an essential difference between a media headline and a selection process – and the 2019 All Blacks look a pretty good mix of experience and youth, steadiness and flair, brain and brawn. Other than Laumape, the only player that might have strengthened this side is a fully fit, raring-to-go Liam Squire. Yet his replacement, Luke Jacobson, could become one of the best in this position; he's that good.
He may be mainly on the bench in this campaign but he purchased his ticket with three enormous games – for the Chiefs against the Highlanders, for the All Blacks against Argentina and, last weekend, for Waikato against Counties Manukau. In each his ball-carrying, tireless work at the rucks and chop-them-down tackling was evident. He has a McCaw-type engine and, while some say he's come out of the blue, he has been on the radar of this column since 2017.
Some critics have judged this squad (minus the physicality of Franks, Squire and the injured Brodie Retallick) doesn't have the necessary nasty. Others have sniffed it looks unbalanced with the loss of Damian McKenzie, the late axing of Franks, the strange absence of Squire and the worry that Retallick may be undercooked for finals rugby even if he recovers in time.
But the All Blacks are clearly gearing up to play an expansive game – or to make it seem they will be – and if there is one place in the world where brutal play will be carefully scrutinised and swiftly punished, it is the knockout phases of World Cup rugby.
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Jacobson was only a surprise to some because he'd had a bit of time off for some concussion symptoms – which brings us back to Laumape and Crotty.
This All Blacks squad has quite a few players with concussion files: Crotty, Jacobson, Ben Smith, Kieran Read, to name a few. Concussion will be vigorously policed in Japan and if Crotty's symptoms emerge at the same time Sonny Bill Williams is injured (it has been known…), the midfield options are halved – with midfield an issue in many All Black World Cup campaigns.
There are other reasons many feel Laumape should have gone – even allowing the All Black selectors love Crotty's ability to read a game, clever running angles, support play, decision-making and distribution. He was also, surprisingly, named as emergency cover for first-five (along with Jordie Barrett and TJ Perenara).
Okay, but here's why I think Laumape should have gone:
Look at Laumape's tries against Australia and Argentina, the first a bolting runaway; the other a bulldozing show of strength in spite of the best attentions of tacklers. It's doubtful Crotty would have scored either. In 44 tests, Crotty has scored nine tries. In his 13 tests (six as a starter), Laumape has scored eight, plus two against non-test sides.
# Interchangeable with Sonny Bill Williams: If SBW is to be the first-choice No 12 (not certain, but let's go with it for now) he brings the following main qualities: crunching defence, offloads, sucking in defenders, creating space for others. If SBW is injured and they want to replace like with like, Laumape seems better suited.
# Form: Crotty has not played rugby, any rugby, for nearly two months though his broken thumb will not have disturbed his overall fitness. There is time in the pool matches to get up to speed. He is unlikely to play the first match, against the Boks, but will likely get game time against Italy, Namibia and Canada. Is that enough?
# The future: Crotty is heading for Japanese club rugby after the World Cup, Laumape has re-signed with New Zealand Rugby. We all know the selectors look the other way with a departing All Black if it suits their needs for the World Cup but 26-year-old Laumape is a better bet for the future.
Of course, Laumape has time and he may even feature in Japan through injury. But some players only have one World Cup chance – and that may have gone.