All Blacks squad ‘Street Smart’ but Lions are Toughest Opponent

All Blacks Squad 'Street Smart' But Lions Are Toughest Opponent
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In the first test of the 2017 season, the All Blacks squad will see a new captain and many combinations to excite fans. Ben Smith skippers the side; in Kieran Read’s place. The Otago talisman missed his sides win over the Lions, but when the first XV run out to meet Samoa, they will have a ‘street smart’ squad.

With Ardie Savea at number eight, Jerome Kaino keen to stretch his legs, a tough pack complimented by the form backline. Sonny Bill Williams has his run in an All Black jersey, paired with the rising star of Anoton Lienert-Brown, outside Beauden Barrett.

And that player will get his opportunity to be among family, as brothers Scott and debutant Jordie, will jump up off the pine. The reserves brig some real fire, and if the AB ‘rust’ is shaken early, fans could see a big score in this Pacifika Challenge.

All Blacks Squad ‘Street Smart’ But Lions Are Toughest Opponent

An almost first-strike team will run out at 8pm (NZT) Friday night. Taking into account that skipper Kieran Read (thumb), midfielder Ryan Crotty (ribs) are missing, the team hope to open their season in style.

ALL BLACKS: Ben Smith (capt), Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.

Reserves: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Vaea Fifita, T J Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Jordie Barrett.

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen prepared a video interview to explain his selection model;

With all due respect to Manu Samoa, the Lions are toughest opponent. The Pacifika side will bring physicality, which is a plus as well as a minus. The collision point will be watched with interest. Hansen and his group will want no further injuries, but in a clash like this–that might be a factor that is [nearly] unavoidable.

Quality opposition is what Hansen wants for the Friday night fixture. Played the night before the British and Irish Lions play the New Zealand Maori side, so good preparation for each side.

All Blacks Ready to Shine in Double-Header at Eden Park

Assembled since Sunday, the squad have been out training in their ‘shiny orange’ new Adidas squad. The 33 members, plus the injury cover group, have all been concentrated on this fixture. They know that a test against Samoa has several elements to it:

  • A perfect warm-up game, much better than any opposed training
  • A reflection on the All Blacks heritage of Pacific Islands born players
  • Auckland will host the first double-header full International; Tonga v Wales followed by New Zealand v Samoa
  • They can send a signal to the touring Lions squad, that ‘they are ready’.

Other key points include the 50th test for Beauden Barrett (pictured below). The Hurricanes star will make his 20th start, and he currently has 297 test points – probably set to crack 300. The fifth All Black to score 300 test points.

Jordie Barrett and Beauden Barrett of the All Blacks run through kicking drills during an All Blacks training session. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

In a double-header, there is the possibility that for the first time, three brothers will be on the field at the same time. While not confirmed, if the substitutions include lock Scott Barrett and a debut for the outside back Jordie (pictured above), then it will be historic.

Note: If Ardie and Julian Savea are both still on the field, that would make for 2 sets of brothers, five players in total. A real ‘family affair’.

Ben Smith Continues All Blacks Legacy

Ben Smith of the All Blacks looks on during a New Zealand All Blacks training session at Eden Park on June 15, 2017 in Auckland. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Ben Smith will become the 68th player to captain the All Blacks. An honour for the man and his family, he was vice-captain to Read and according to Nigel Yalden from NZME “the natural choice”.

Recommitting to NZ Rugby, the player is respected for his skill level before his seniority, so he earned the jersey before his ascension to the captaincy.

As well as new All Blacks squad member Jordie Barrett, Vaea Fifita also gets a debut for the All Blacks. Brought in for his height and agility, he will be in future competition with players like Liam Squire and Scott Barrett, for the flanker/lock cover position.

Steve Hansen told allblacks.com “It’s also going to be a big night for Jordie and Vaea as they’re both likely to play a part on the night. They’ve both been in great form and we’re looking forward to seeing what they can do at this level.”

Samoa will play their seventh International against the All Blacks. New Zealand hasn’t played Pacific cousins Samoa since 2015 in what was also a warm-up match. The spectacle at Eden Park, including the Tonga v Wales test match, will mean this All Blacks squad will be inspired to entertain their fans and send a message to every challenger.

The Tonga vs Wales Test will kick-off at 5:30pm, followed by the All Blacks vs Samoa at 8pm.

 

“Main photo credit”