The All Blacks first 36-man squad of the year offered up six newcomers in line for debuts as they refine the team ahead of big year and Ian Foster’s last hurrah as head coach.
Some of the new selections were expected like Cam Roigard and Tamaiti Williams, whilst the shock omission from a ‘bolter’ point of view was Shaun Stevenson, who was initially overlooked for Emoni Narawa.
Although there will likely be new debutants before the Rugby World Cup, it doesn’t mean the rookies will be on the plane to France, as former All Blacks Lima Sopoaga and Josh Ioane can attest to.
The truncated Rugby Championship is often a bumpy period for the All Blacks, who have not won the title yet in a World Cup year.
The last time they took home the SANZAAR silverware in a World Cup year was 2007 in the Tri Nations.
Here are five predictions for the All Blacks ahead of their Rugby Championship campaign.
Damian McKenzie will get a run in the No 10 jersey
His last Test as a starting All Black first five came in 2021 against Argentina and before that it was against France in 2018.
With Mo’unga and Barrett the undisputed top two for a long time in New Zealand, McKenzie hasn’t had many chances at 10 but that should change after his top form during Super Rugby with the Chiefs.
The Chiefs playmaker inked a long-term commitment to NZR this year, while both Mo’unga and Barrett are headed offshore next year.
Surely NZR will want to give their investment as the future 10 a test drive before he takes over in 2024 and the Rugby Championship is the perfect time to do that.
Will Jordan will become the All Blacks’ permanent fullback
Watching Jordan tear through the Blues in the first half of the semi-final before finding the last pass for Leicester Fainga’anuku was sublime fullback play that showed why the Crusaders’ No 15 is one of the best attacking weapons in the rugby world.
The time is right for Jordan to take over the No 15 jersey ahead of the Rugby World Cup, with the 25-year-old at his peak athletically. To wait for another World Cup would waste this opportunity, where he would be 29 and a different player.
He possesses the speed, acceleration and strength to break open anyone and has proven time and time again to be a game breaker. More touches for Jordan is bad news for any opposition.
The move makes sense and is needed. Jordie Barrett has moved into the midfield, while Beauden has been out of sorts over the back half of the season. Jordan is the strike player to add some lightening to the All Blacks back line at the perfect time.
It would also open the door for Stevenson, Telea or Narawa to wear the No 14 jersey, three of the hardest players to tackle in New Zealand.
A rough start in Argentina is very much on the cards
Los Pumas have not played the All Blacks at home since 2019, where they nearly pulled off a historic win as a last-second rolling maul by the Pumas was disarmed to preserve a 20-16 win for the All Blacks.
Since that tight affair Argentina has knocked off the All Blacks twice in near identical fashion, once on neutral turf in Sydney and on New Zealand soil last season.
The monkey is finally off the back and there is no reason why Michael Chieka’s men can’t do it again, especially buoyed by playing at home.
Argentina were smoked in the second test in Hamilton last year, but not much can be read into that result after likely a week of celebrating their win in Christchurch.
Fresh and ready to ambush Foster’s men, Pablo Matera will be itching to tell Dane Coles he doesn’t belong in Mendoza.
The All Blacks better not experiment too much otherwise Argentina’s brutal defence will grind them into submission. David Kidwell has worked wonders with the side that looked desolate in 2021.
An ugly win by the All Blacks is all that is required against one of the best defences going around.
The All Blacks will lose to the Wallabies
One thing is pretty much certain in World Cup years, and that is that the All Blacks will lose to the Wallabies. It has happened in every World Cup year since 1999, either before or during the event.
In ’99 Australia finished the Tri-Nations with a 28-7 win in Sydney over the men in black, while in 2003 it was in the World Cup semi-final at Stadium Australia with George Gregan’s famous sledge.
In 2007 the Wallabies got up 20-15 at the MCG in the Tri Nations, in 2011 it was Radike Samo breaking away for a famous try that sealed the title for Australia in Brisbane.
In 2015 they won the Rugby Championship with a 27-19 win in Sydney with a late try to Nic White sealing the deal. The big 47-26 loss in Perth in 2019 cost Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith their starting wing jobs.
The Melbourne test at the MCG as the likely venue for another one as Eddie Jones whips up a frenzy to start the Wallabies hype train, only to be let down in the return Test in Dunedin.
Jones needs one win over the All Blacks to avoid a demoralising start as head coach.
Springboks Test will be a must-win
The clash against the Springboks at Mt Smart Stadium is the only home test for the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship, with the second Bledisloe fixture in Dunedin outside the tournament.
If they end up losing in Mendoza, it becomes a non-negotiable. The All Blacks must bury the Boks at the home of rugby league in New Zealand. The two sides will meet at Twickenham in a warm-up fixture but this Test is one with trophies at stake.
South Africa will send a strong line-up, unlike 2011 when they mailed over cannon fodder to Wellington.
A big win by the All Blacks against the ‘As’ will go a long way to sinking the Boks’ World Cup hopes early, which is why they cannot allow South Africa to get their desired sugar rush.
The game will be tougher than the last outing at Ellis Park without the altitude factor which helped the All Blacks, but the formula Foster found that day should still be effective.
It will be tough but the All Blacks should hold off the Boks by 5-10 points.