Well, like most keen kiwi rugby fans we weren't too far off on our 2002 All Black squad, but we didn't see a couple of picks coming. Here's the squad, and some thoughts and comments on the surprises below.
|Leon 'Rangi' Macdonald (CAN)||Byron Kelleher (OTA)|
|Christian Cullen (WEL)||Justin Marshall (CAN)|
|Doug Howlett (AUK)||Aaron Mauger (CAN)|
|Jonah Lomu (WEL)||Andrew Mehrtens (CAN)|
|Caleb Ralph (CAN)||Mark Robinson (CAN)|
|Tana Umaga (WEL)||Daryl Gibson (CAN)|
|Scott Robertson (CAN)||Simon Maling (OTA)|
|Taine Randell (OTA)||Greg Somerville (CAN)|
|Marty Holah (WAI)||Dave Hewitt (CAN)|
|Rueben Thorne (CAN)||Kees Meeuws (AUK)|
|Richie Mccaw (CAN)||Joe Mcdonnell (OTA)|
|Norm Maxwell (CAN)||Mark Hammett (CAN)|
|Chris Jack (CAN)||Tom Willis (OTA)|
The predictable provincial breakdown is, Canterbury 15, Otago 5, Wellington 3, Auckland 2, Waikato 1.
The two big surprises in the team were the inclusion of Daryl Gibson and Joe Mcdonnell. We had selected Carlos Spencer to pick up the reserve inside back spot in the initial 26 man squad, and either Greg Feek or Carl Hayman to grab a front row spot.
We are pretty happy with these two guys making the team, but we have to note that all three of the guys we were picking made the Maoris team and will definitely be in the frame if injury or form affects the guys in the current squad.
Thinking about it in retrospect picking these guys who have played much of their Super 12 rugby this season off the bench makes perfect sense when selecting an All Black squad, and Coach Mitchell alluded to this approach when he selected Brad Thorn as an impact player off the bench for last years end of season tour.
Daryl Gibson has proved to be the consumate pro this season, pretty much doing what ever is required of him. He has played first-class and test rugby, at a variety of positions in the back line, and while he won't be pushing for a starting spot in the team he will be very reliable if called on in any jersey from 12 out to 15. Don't discount his role behind the scenes in the Crusaders success either. You can be sure his experience has been a huge help for the whole team, and Aaron Mauger in particularly. No doubt he will maintain a similar role into the ABs.
Mcdonnell's selection is similar, although unlike Gibson he may well not get a spot in a playing side once they have to trim the squad down to 22. He started the season very strongly for the Highlanders, keeping Karl Hoeft on the bench, and then even when Hoeft appeared to get the starting jersey in the latter games Mcdonnell was still used in almost every game as an impact guy. As with the Crusaders, when you have three top props vying for two positions there has to be a rotation policy imployed, so his lack of game time obviously didn't count against him. This was obviously the case with Dave Hewitt as well.
It will also be interesting to see who gets the starting No 8 job especially now that Captain Reuben has a lock on the No 6 spot. The only chance of a starting spot for Taine is No 8, but if he doesn't get that he will be a virtual definite reserve, filling the cruscial utility loosie role off the bench. With Jerry Collins out of the picture this all seems a lot more clear cut, we suspect that Robertson will start at 8 and Taine will have to be happy to be on the bench.
Overall it's a very strong looking squad, and if Jonah and Cully can regain some confidence (by playing behind a dominant forward pack) then things will be looking very rosy indeed for this international season. Bring it on!!