With the June internationals just around the corner, the All Black selectors have a conundrum on their hands, where to fit their surplus of talented midfield backs? Robbie Fruean has been in amazing attacking form for the Crusaders, but does he have the allround game to knock established players like Chiefs Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui or the Rugby World Cup winning combination of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith off their pedestal. The other options are utility players like Highlanders Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith who could be preferred options off the bench. Will the selectors choose players who won’t be around in 2015 at the Rugby World Cup? Will they select combinations of players from Super Rugby teams? It will also depend on the squads and how many specialists and how many utilities are required.
Sonny Bill Williams has been an integral part of the All Blacks since late 2010 and has played in 14 test matches. He leads the Super Rugby 2012 in offloads and has the fourth most running metres. Sonny Bill Williams has developed a good combination with Richard Kahui from the Chiefs. His defence is huge and he is lethal on attack. I think you can’t leave out Sonny Bill Williams unless he decides that he doesn’t want to be an All Black and wants to focus too much on other things like boxing.
Richard Kahui has silky skills and has excellent distribution. He is a smart player, but also has enough speed to be able to play on the wing or midfield. He is defensively good and has developed a great combination with the rejuvenated Chiefs. Kahui and Sonny Bill Williams are both 26 years old so will be around for the next Rugby World Cup and are the best looking midfield in the game. Injury has curtailed Kahui’s career so far with only 17 tests so far despite debuting in 2008.
Conrad Smith is a consistent performer for the All Blacks and has forged a great partnership with Ma’a Nonu in recent years. Smith is known as an intelligent player who is actually a qualified lawyer and he plays a smart game which allows him to read situations on both attack and defence, despite not being the biggest or quickest candidate. He is 30 and probably won’t be around for the next Rugby World Cup. His 55 test matches provide experience for the All Blacks, but you wonder if it is worth retaining him knowing that he will be 34 at the next Rugby World Cup. Plenty will depend on the attitude of the selectors.
Ma’a Nonu has been in a disappointing Blues team this season, but he is such a devastating player with ball in hand. Nonu’s consistency has improved in recent years and he has been one of the All Blacks first names on the team sheet. He is the ultimate foil for Conrad Smith. Nonu has tested many defences in recent years with his blockbusting runs, but he has also developed his passing and even his kicking game. Nonu is 29 and so could be tempted to go overseas soon, so you wonder if the selectors will select the combination of Nonu and Smith, even though neither will probably be playing at the top of their games in 2015.
Robbie Fruean has been electric at times this season for the Crusaders, but there are still question marks over his defence at times, but you can’t question his attacking ability. He adds life to the Crusaders backline. Does he read the game well and have the ability to unleash the outsides? Fruean is only 23 and must have a future in the All Blacks jersey, but I think he is a bit inconsistent to make the team until the End of Year Tour. Some people even think he would be better on the wing with less decision making and reading of the game required while he would also have more of a chance of making the bench.
Tamati Ellison has been in remarkable form for the Highlanders this season in the midfield and at fullback. Ellison is light on his feet and seems to always threaten the defence, yet shows up in the right place at the right time on both attack and defence. Ellison can play in most positions in the backline and with Isaia Toeava out injured he could come into contention as a bench player. Ellison is a one test All Black from 2009 but amazingly has been in Japan for the last few years. Ellison is 29 and so may be doubtful for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Ben Smith usually plays at fullback for the Highlanders, but has the ability to play on the wing or at centre. He has been in sensational form for the Highlanders this season with an ability to spot the gap and his deceptive pace. He is still only 25, yet plays with a maturity beyond his years. Smith’s ability to cover fullback, centre and wing make him an ideal candidate for the All Blacks squad as bench cover. He has played two tests before.
Dan Carter has been playing at second five eighth for the Crusaders and could provide cover for the All Blacks there. Carter started his career in the midfield and would take the pressure off the starting first five eighth by offering an alternative kicking option. His groin injury won’t be as badly affected by less kicking at second five eighth. Could DC still be around for the 2015 Rugby World Cup?
Other options include the enigmatic Rene Ranger from the Blues and the hard running second five eighth Shaun Treeby from the Highlanders. I think that Sonny Bill Williams needs to decide what he wants and Robbie Fruean will probably be saved for the End of Year Tour. Nonu and Smith may not be seen much more in the All Blacks after this year. Kahui should be there. Ben Smith is a good option for the squad. Of course, there will always be injuries.
Who do you think be in the All Blacks midfield? I think it will be Smith, Nonu, Kahui and SBW, although Ben Smith may sneak in as a utility. Fruean should be saved for the All Blacks End of Year tour/Autumn Internationals.