By Michael Pulman
Hello there! Welcome to my weekly “Best All Blacks Starting XV” column – right here on Rugby Rampage. My name is Mike Pulman and I’ve been a freelance sports writer since 2014. I currently write for a number of different websites doing opinion and analysis, with the occasional match report every now and then.
I hope you enjoy this bit of writing – and please send me your feedback!
Now remember – this will be a reoccurring piece over the weeks between now and the First Test against the Lions. My picks are based somewhat on bias, but more importantly, they are made on what I see from my weekly rugby viewing. In other words – take it with a grain of salt.
So, let’s get into it.
Usual All Blacks skipper Kieran Read misses out due to his broken thumb, and replacing him at No.8 is Liam Squire. While not a regular starter for the Highlanders this year, Squire has been trending upwards for well over a year now, and putting him in this position frees up the space for Ardie Savea, who I believe is better suited at No.6.
No Steven Luatua in my squad – the guy has had far too many chances in the black jersey and many lost faith a long time ago. You can’t base form for the Blues on an All Black selection.
Sam Whitelock deserves a shot at the All Blacks captaincy, and if the squad were to play tomorrow, he’d be my man. Whitelock has led the Crusaders to an unbeaten run in Super Rugby so far, but his experience in the black jersey is what counts the most. Whitelock is a double Rugby World Cup winner and has worked alongside both Kieran Read, and the great Richie McCaw, for a long time.
In the backs, I’ve gone with Jordie Barrett at fullback because he can kick goals. His brother Beauden is your first choice with the tee, but if injury were to strike in the opening minutes of a match, Jordie can fill that role better than anyone else named in this particular back line.
Ryan Crotty could make a serious case for vice-captain, and he is the easiest pick in this squad right now. Crotty has been the best midfielder in Super Rugby this year, and like fellow Crusader comrade Sam Whitelock, his experience in all levels of rugby cannot be discounted. Malakai Fekitoa is the specialist centre – out of faith more than anything as he still holds a more senior ranking than Anton Lienert-Brown in the team.
On the wings, a big surprise (and an All Black debut) with the selection of Patrick Osborne. Yes, he’s heading to Japan at the end of the season, but based on what he did against the Stormers last weekend, you’d take a punt on him. Waisake Naholo joins his Highlanders teammate over on the right wing.
My All Blacks Starting XV (the week of 1st May, 2017)