Ronan O’Gara’s inside guide to the All Blacks.
The Chiefs looked to turn this talent into a ten 10 this season, he got first go at out half, but he’s a bit loose structurally to play there. He may weight in at only 80kgs, but show this fella any bit of space, and he is deceptively strong in making use of it. If his lack of inches is a weakness, he is incredibly fast and fit. McKenzie’s capacity to run high speed metres consecutively is very impressive. He’s not a fella who’ll go on a massive counter-attack and is then sucking hard for ten minutes, like a lot of the old school athletes. He’s a veritable Duracell bunny.
The dismantler of the high ball strategy. Probably the best 15 in the world still, but playing on the right wing today in Dublin. Smith is a proper good rugby player and Joe Schmidt knows that. Ireland won’t kick to to Smith, who’s over 6ft. They will go to Ioane and McKenzie, and it should be fascinating to see how the home side manipulate that.
Only earning his seventh cap, so maybe one of the less well-known All Blacks on the pitch today. Don’t let that give you any sense of false optimism. Jack is going to be a world star. He has the attitude, the determination and the frame. It’s his first season of test rugby but you wouldn’t know it: the Crusader has real rugby intellect and is a brilliant guy to coach.
A fascinating player to coach. Loves detail, loves to know why something is being done in a particular way and if he believes you, he will back you 100%. If he doesn’t like the idea, he won’t feel good. He likes to feel right with the plan and preparation. Fail to prepare might be his mantra - if someone around here hadn’t take that one already!
In the mould of the traditional Auckland Blues finishers. A try-scoring machine, he bagged 18 in his first 18 tests with the All Blacks.
At 6’2” he’s a serious carrier, and is more than happy to run over you as much as go around. Either way, in full flight he’s a handful.
Only when you see Beauden at pitch level does one get a true appreciation of his acceleration. There’s nobody else in the world in his position has that gas. It’s amazing that even in the statistically-driven world of rugby analysis, he can score four tries against Australia in a Bledisloe Cup match and there isn’t even much mention about it. That’s the level he is at. Another day at the office. That’s the standard.
He’s only 5’7” and 84kgs but he packs some power. Smith sets the tempo for the attack, a livewire with endless supplies of energy. Nine is a really strong axis for the All Blacks with TJ Perenara to come off the bench, and a tussle with Conor Murray would have been very interesting. Great examination of where Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath are at.
The best in the world in his position. He sees things two or three seconds before anyone else, and that’s a long time ahead. The rugby nerds will track his every movement today and it won’t be wasted time. Serious leader too. You get more out of someone like Kieran when he is around the Crusaders and isn’t playing because it’s genuine, considered feedback. Always in the sheds before and after games - and at half-time.
Explosive athlete, serious leg power, and looking to fill the jersey of Richie McCaw. In that context, he remains unproven at this level, and in an ideal world for Steve Hansen might be more of an impact player. Dan Leavy may be out but it’s not like Savea won’t have his hands full with Josh van der Flier either.
A rangy blindside who is probably one of the less heralded starters for New Zealand. If I am honest there’s a debate to be had in New Zealand about the No’s 6 and 7 jerseys ahead of the World Cup next year.
What a second row confrontation in store today. As England found to their cost last Saturday, the lineout is a different world with Retallick jumping for New Zealand. Has confirmed he will be leaving New Zealand after the 2019 World Cup and at 27,he won’t be short of suitors in Europe or Japan. Class performer.
One of the most impressive figure sat the Crusaders. A brilliant leader and captain. So composed, fantastic at getting his message across in a single detail. Just the critical message, and he gets it every time. Sam has the most impressive win record in world rugby for a centurion with over 90% strike rate - and he is also the youngest All Black at 29 to reach 100 caps.
Has enjoyed a whirlwind 12 months culminating in a nomination for World Breakthrough Player of the Year. Solid scrummager who has taken a chance offered to him by the Chiefs. Weighs in around 135kgs so most of his work will be in the tight.
The more experienced Dane Cole is available again to New Zealand but management is backing the Crusader hooker, which is great to see.
Performed very well against the Boks’ Malcolm Marx in the Rugby Championship, and having Retallick and Whitelock in the lineout offers security out of touch.
Another All Black centurion with vast experience, Owen Franks likes to let his rugby do the talking. An expert practitioner who leaves nothing to chance, he brought his own protein drink to his wedding, afraid the catering team wouldn’t have the correct food available to him on the day.
Loves the detail around the scrum, loves the whole preparation. An unbelievable professional.