All Blacks coach Ian Foster made nine phone calls to players from last year not selected in his first squad of 2022 for three tests against Ireland in July. Liam Napier analyses why some incumbents missed out and whether they can make it back, and what others on the fringe must do to force their way in.
Ethan de Groot
Reason for missing out: Told to improve his fitness and mobility. Not helped by an underwhelming season from the Highlanders, and concerns around their team culture (only two players made the squad).
What the future holds: De Groot's future is bright. Despite being left out this time around he remains highly regarded. For good reason, too. In the quarterfinal at Eden Park de Groot, Folau Fakatava and Marino Mikaele-Tu'u were the only positive points in a one-sided loss for the Highlanders. On that occasion, de Groot dominated Ofa Tuungafasi in an impressive scrummaging display. At 23-years-old, and with Karl Tu'inukuafe moving to France after the Rugby Championship, de Groot is certain to be back in black.
Reason for missing out: Feeling the pinch point of five halfbacks into three. Repeat injury setbacks this season hurt the ability to consistently press his case.
What the future holds: The door is far from closed on Weber. He is likely to be next in line should injury strike and with Aaron Smith's frame showing increasing signs of wear and tear, Weber should keep the phone handy.
Reason for missing out: Stuck between two worlds. Seen as not tall enough for a test lock, not enough of a dynamic ball carrying presence/physically dominant defender to justify inclusion as a blindside option.
What the future holds: Form wise Robinson can do no more. He is the best performing Blues forward this season, so often the difference maker. Last week's lineout steal on his own line against the Brumbies is case in point, but that's also only one example of someone who works harder than anyone on any field. Robinson's pathway to the All Blacks is tricky with Akira Ioane holding down the six role at the Blues. All he can do is keep knocking on the door and hope perceptions change.
Reason for missing out: Folau Fakatava's eligibility clearance, and the desire to embrace speed from the base.
What the future holds: Perenara is an intensely competitive character who will never give up the dream – as his 'BRB' (be right back) message on Instagram suggests. His potential recall starts with New Zealand Māori and their two matches against Ireland. Perenara's abrasive style, his physical nature and defensive strength, goes head-to-head with Fakatava so he probably needs the rookie to either not perform, or suffer injury to return to the All Blacks.
Reason for missing out: The shifting dynamic in the All Blacks outside backs, where Caleb Clarke and Leicester Fainga'anuku underline the preference for power, and a dip in form since that unfortunate test against the Springboks last year.
What the future holds: Not promising, partly because Sevu Reece and Leicester Fainga'anuku block the starting wing roles at the Crusaders. It's difficult to impress from the bench. Bridge is also 27. While that doesn't sound old Christian Cullen, Jef Wilson, Joe Rokocoko, Jonah Lomu and Julian Savea all did not progress past that mark in their distinguished test careers. Bridge's best option would be to move Super Rugby franchises to chase a guaranteed starting role as he still has plenty to offer.
Reason for missing out: Jack Goodhue's return and being relegated to the Crusaders bench.
What the future holds: Ennor must convince he is best suited to centre, not the wing. As a centre he will likely always be ranked behind Rieko Ioane and Jack Goodhue so with the squeezing on last year's bloated squad, he was always at risk. Ennor can be lethal on the outside break but he doesn't offer the physical presence desired from the midfield. At 24, time is on his side, but he, too, could benefit from a move away from the stacked Crusaders.
Reason for missing out: Not enough game time in the past year.
What the future holds: At his best Frizell is among New Zealand's most destructive blindside options. With ball in hand and on defence he can be a dominant presence that bends and breaks the line. In the past year, though, he simply hasn't played enough. First a court case for an alleged assault prevented him from travelling to Australia for the Rugby Championship last year. This season he has played one match since April – off the bench in the quarterfinal against the Blues – due to a knee injury. If he can recapture form and prove his work-rate, Frizell remains well in the mix for a recall.
Reason for missing out: A victim of being shuffled through all three loose forward roles, and the desire to harness bigger bodies.
What the future holds: Jacobson was once touted as a future All Blacks captain, and therefore will almost certainly be back at some stage. He would benefit from settling either at No 8 or blindside, though. Versatility can be both a blessing and a curse. The All Blacks clearly want dominant ball carriers and defenders. Despite his impressive recent form, this must be Jacobson's focus.
Reason for missing out: Hoskins Sotutu, Ardie Savea and Pita Gus Sowakula preferred as No 8 options.
What the future holds: Cracking the All Blacks loose forwards is a difficult task but, surely, Mikaele-Tu'u must be kicking down the door. With his ball skills, height, vision he offers the full package and at 24 there's plenty more to come.
Warriors wooden spoon watch
Yes, it has come to this. The Warriors are odds on to slip to 4-11 this Saturday when they meet the rampant Panthers. The State of Origin period is, usually, the one time of year you can count on the Warriors to peg back wins against significantly weakened opposition. Even that glimmer of hope is fast fading.
A seventh straight defeat this weekend would place the Warriors perilously close to their first wooden spoon in history. They sit 14th - one win off last.
Seemingly rejuvenated under Mick Potter, the Bulldogs 34-4 demolition of the Eels on Monday did not help the Warriors quest to avoid further ignominy. The next two weeks, specifically these fixtures - Round 15: Bulldogs v Tigers, Round 16: Knights v Titans, Warriors v Tigers - will be telling in determining Warriors' fate.
Record: 8/17 (-$9)
Somehow the Chiefs couldn't hold up their end of the +12.5 bargain, blowing a mountain of chances against the Crusaders to ruin the multi with Queensland in State of Origin and slide The Sauce back into the red. Damit. This week I fancy the Blues to sneak home in the Super Rugby final, but I'm going to sit on the fence somewhat and tip the tri-bet – either team by 7.5 points or less at $2.30.
There's only one burning question this week – why the hell wasn't Neil Wagner picked at Trent Bridge? Graeme, Christchurch
That, I cannot answer. Wagner's continued exclusion is baffling. Losing after scoring 553 in your first innings takes some doing. Maybe England would have won even with Wagner's inclusion. They certainly wouldn't have done it at the canter they did. Wagner's firebrand ability to break a partnership can no longer be ignored. England 2-0 - not the worst start for McCullum, is it?