The All Blacks are gearing up for a transformative chapter under their new coach Scott Robertson after the heart-wrenching loss in the Rugby World Cup final to South Africa on Sunday. The man known as Razor takes the reins today and his tenure promises to be a departure from tradition, embracing a forward-thinking and innovative approach.
Robertson’s coaching style is far different to outgoing All Blacks coach Ian Foster, characterised by his visionary mindset, in which campaign themes and imagery play a prominent role. Unlike his predecessor, Robertson will embrace new-age coaching methods and challenge the status quo. His desire to be himself and connect with younger generations sets him apart from more conservative elements in rugby administration.
Robertson’s coaching philosophy is expected to be a blend of traditional rugby values with a sense of freedom and lack of inhibition. He aims to make the All Blacks a team that speaks to younger generations both figuratively and literally.
As he steps into his role, Robertson brings with him a seasoned coaching team that includes Jason Ryan, Leon MacDonald, Jason Holland, and Scott Hansen. While Robertson has been tight-lipped about his game plan, he has acknowledged the need for a different approach in test rugby compared to Super Rugby but what will his side look like?
Scott Robertson’s (possible) starting All Blacks line-up
Fullback: Will Jordan
All Blacks fans will finally see Will Jordan unleashed from fullback next year, with Beauden Barrett joining Japanese club Toyota Verblitz. Whenever Jordan is on the field, he can’t stay out of the action and things just seem to happen. He has the x-factor and that’s been shown on full display at the World Cup, where he was the leading try-scorer.
Reserve: Stephen Perofeta. Honourable mentions: Zarn Sullivan, Sam Gilbert.
Wingers: Mark Tele’a and Shaun Stevenson
Mark Tele’a has been one of the form wingers in New Zealand over the past two years and Shaun Stevenson is knocking on the door. His ability to run through defenders – not just around them – is Ben Smith-like. The man with uncanny footwork has also developed a skilful kicking game and is a safe pair of hands under the high ball.
Stevenson, meanwhile, can play on either wing and covers fullback too. He had a breakout year for the Chiefs and despite being chased by NRL coach Wayne Bennett, decided to stay in New Zealand.
Honourable mentions: Emoni Narawa, Caleb Clarke, Sevu Reece.
Midfield: Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett
Jordie Barrett can seemingly play anywhere in the backline – possibly to the detriment of his desire to play in the midfield. But he’s forming a powerful connection alongside Rieko Ioane. Barrett has a phenomenal skillset and is renowned for his long-range kicking ability and skills under the high ball. He’s quick and strong too, useful in both attack and defence.
Ioane is a fan favourite and for good reason. The speedster’s exhilarating pace and strength caught the attention of the All Blacks selectors in 2016, and he was selected for the Northern Tour in November. Ioane hasn’t looked back since and has been one of the first selections for the All Blacks since his debut. In that time, he has proved to be a try-scoring machine.
Reserve: Braydon Ennor. Honourable mentions: Levi Aumua, David Havili, Anton Lienert-Brown, Quinn Tupaea.
First five-eighths: Damian McKenzie
Arguably the best player in Super Rugby Pacific 2023, Damian McKenzie struggled to get game time at the World Cup behind Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett. With both stars leaving New Zealand’s shores, the firecracker McKenzie has the chance to make the No 10 jersey his own. The silky McKenzie is great with ball in hand and has electric footwork that sees him frequently duck and weave away from defenders.
A concern for Robertson though will be that for the first time in a long time, first five-eighths is a position in which New Zealand doesn’t have a lot of depth.
Honourable mentions: Josh Ioane, Fergus Burke, Ruben Love.
Halfback: Cam Roigard
Irrepressible halfback Cam Roigard played his way into the World Cup squad through an impressive 2023 Super Rugby Pacific campaign. Roigard was a revelation for the Hurricanes this season after earning selection in the All Blacks XV last November. The 22-year-old is a constant threat with the ball in hand, as showcased during the pool stages of the World Cup. He should get the start over Finlay Christie.
Reserve: Finlay Christie. Honourable mentions: Folau Fakatava, T.J. Perenara.
Number 8: Ardie Savea (captain)
Undeniably the best player in the world, Ardie Savea should be the first name on the team sheet.
Don’t be surprised if Scott Robertson opts to make Savea his captain. But what may cause concern for Robertson’s first squad is that the Hurricanes loose forward is soon heading to Japan – he returns to New Zealand in June 2024. The dynamic powerhouse has continued to go from strength to strength since making his All Blacks debut against Wales in 2016. His combination of tremendous speed, athleticism and an ability to stay alive in the tackle is second to none and he always leads from the front.
Honourable mentions: Cullen Grace, Hoskins Sotutu, Akira Ioane.
Openside flanker: Sam Cane
Sam Cane has faced the near-impossible task of following the greatest player ever, Richie McCaw, first as the All Blacks openside flanker and later as captain. That job only got harder after he became the first man to be red-carded in a World Cup final on Sunday. Still, the current skipper tackles like no other. Cane’s defensive crunch and his strength at the collision point are second to none, coupled with his ability as a clean-out operator that puts fear into the opposition.
Those who criticise Cane may have forgotten how devastating he was against Ireland in the quarter-finals.
Reserve: Dalton Papali’i. Honourable mentions: Du’Plessis Kirifi, Billy Harmon, Tom Christie.
Blindside flanker: Ethan Blackadder
Brought into the World Cup squad as an injury replacement for Emoni Narawa, Ethan Blackadder will be the frontrunner to become Shannon Frizell’s replacement at blindside flanker. Frizell, who heads to Japan, had a physically epic 2023 season, something Blackadder could match. The Crusaders loosie goes from 0 to 100 as soon as the kickoff drops and plays the game all gas, no brakes. That style of play does come with its drawbacks, as Blackadder is prone to conceding the odd penalty or three, but it’s a fair price to pay for the good he brings to a team.
Honourable mentions: Luke Jacobson, Samipeni Finau.
Locks: Scott Barrett, Tupou Vaa’i
Discipline has, at times, been an area of weakness for Scott Barrett, though he generally makes up for that through the rest of his play. Equally as comfortable at lock or blindside flanker, Barrett brings physicality every time he steps onto the pitch. He’s added to his rugby resume with captaincy at Super level, which has only lifted his overall game.
Tupou Vaa’i is the latest in a string of formidable locks for the All Blacks. Vaa’i has filled in superbly when his number has been called.
Reserve: Josh Lord. Honourable mentions: Pari Pari Parkinson, Quinten Strange.
Props: Tyrel Lomax, Ethan de Groot
Tyrel Lomax and Ethan de Groot are the latest in a long line of impressive New Zealand props.
Raised in the deep south, loosehead de Groot is massive at 1.90m and 122kg and puts his size to good use at scrum time and in attack.
Lomax, son of former Kiwis international John, grew up playing league in Wellington but switched to rugby when his family returned to Canberra. A good scrummager, and active in open play where he is always looking for the tackle and trying to get stuck into the ruck, he is a strong talent.
Reserves: Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell. Honourable mentions: Joe Moody, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Aidan Ross.
Hooker: Codie Taylor
Codie Taylor is equipped with a strong and swift running game, deft passing ability, a high IQ for the game, strong defence and a terrific engine. He will be one of Robertson’s leaders.
A powerful scrummager and surprisingly quick runner, Taylor has worked his way back into favour with the All Blacks selectors after a rocky series against Ireland in 2022 that saw him dropped, and had a strong World Cup.
Reserves: Samisoni Taukei’aho. Honourable mentions: Asafo Aumua, George Bell.
Full list of possible reserves:
16. Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17. Tamaiti Williams, 18. Fletcher Newell, 19. Josh Lord, 20. Dalton Papali’i, 21. Finlay Christie, 22. Braydon Ennor, 23. Stephen Perofeta.
Luke Kirkness is an Online Sports Editor for the NZ Herald. He previously covered consumer affairs for the Herald and was an assistant news director in the Bay of Plenty. He won Student Journalist of the Year in 2019.