The All Blacks announced their squad of 31 players to defend the Rugby World Cup, which begins in England on September the 18th.
Selectors Steve Hansen, Grant Fox and Ian Foster applied a mix of caution and aggression, of experience and youth, in picking this squad.
The most capped All Black of the squad with 142 tests behind him Richie McCaw captains the team, in what will be his last World Cup, while this would be the first for 17 players.
There were some exciting, and probably surprising selections.
Naholo seeks cure
The biggest story to come out of this squad was Highlander’s Winger Waisake Naholo making the cut. His international debut was cut short after cracking a fibula in his debut against Argentina in July. It was widely believed he will not be available for selection to Rugby’s premier event.
But Naholo had other ideas, and went back to his native village of Sigatoka in Fiji to seek treatment from natural remedies. The results obviously have been good, prompting coach Hansen to declare that the 24-year-old will be available for selection for the All Blacks’ third pool game against Georgia in Cardiff on October 2.
Another Winger whose selection triggered considerable excitement was Hurricanes player Nehe Milne-Skudder. Having just played two international tests, it is his skills and expertise at setting the try up for his team mates, which have made him a name.
Charlie Faumina was a Prop whose selection was much discussed.
Critics said that he was just coming out of injury, and was still not match fit. The 27-Test Blues player will get an excellent opportunity at the Cup to prove his naysayers wrong.
Blues prop Tony Woodcock and Hooker Kevin Mealamu will also be playing their last World Cups, and the seasoned professionals would like to leave the game on a high.
Their form has been patchy leading into this event, but as always they seem to reserve their best for the All Blacks.
Maa Nonu, a veteran of 97 Tests, looks to have pencilled his name as the starting 48, after a convincing display in the last Bledisloe Cup test against Australia.
With Sonny Bill Williams also in the squad, we can expect this position to be hotly contested.
Dan Carter, who has appeared in 106 Tests, remains the team’s top pick for kicking duties.
The No 10’s goal kicking abilities will be a major factor in determining how the All Blacks fare at the championships.
As 20 top Rugby playing nations vie for the sports ultimate glory over a six-week period, New Zealand will be hoping that history repeats itself, and All Blacks win their third Rugby World Cup title.
Richie McCaw- possibly the last