In some ways it seems like the 2011 Rugby World Cup was not that long ago.
It doesn’t take me long to conjure up the emotions I endured on that World Cup Final night as our All Black warriors tackled to a standstill to end our country’s 24-year World Cup drought. Oh what a night.
With the first game of the next World Cup scheduled for September 2015, somehow we are already at the halfway point between Rugby World Cups (man that went quick). So at this halfway stage – it is a great time for All Black enthusiasts like myself to begin to dream about how our team will take shape in the games premier showpiece.
This piece is not about how the All Blacks will fare in the 2015 Tournament – it’s focus is more on the players making the right noises in the New Zealand game to be selected for that All Black team to defend our Rugby World Cup crown.
The All Blacks completed a dominant year of results in 2012 as World Champions only dropping the one game and have yet to taste defeat after six tests in 2013 (including tests against France, Australia and Argentina). Some older heads of the New Zealand game are still making the right noises and Steve Hansen has introduced some exciting new talent who have shown real promise.
So based on these considerations, if New Zealand make the 2015 RWC Final, the team that I believe will be selected to run out onto Twikenham to defend our Rugby World Cup crown on that afternoon, will be:
15. Ben Smith
In 2015, Ben Smith will be ruling the roost from the back. He will be at the peak of his powers come tournament time taking his kicking and running game to another level. This will be a close race with ‘Izzy’ but ‘Ghost’ will make every post a winner from now till the tournament cementing his place as the 2015 All Black first-choice fullback.
14. Julian Savea
‘The Bus’ will be making big noise as a player in 2015. Savea will give the All Blacks that power game they’ve utilised so well over the years. He has already scored 13 tries in 13 starts for the All Blacks. Potential superstar of the game.
13. Conrad Smith
‘Snakey’ will return from his sabbatical rejuventated ready for one more tilt at World Cup glory. He continues to lead our backline defense with aplomb and remains a cool head amongst a backline brimming with instinctive players.
12. Sonny Bill Williams
If you caught SBW’s try assist on the weekend for the Sydney Roosters you would probably have come to the same conclusion that I did – SBW is far from done at the top levels of rugby, regardless of code. I’m picking him to terrorise defenses again, in union, in what will be his second Rugby World Cup tournament.
11. Cory Jane
Can you really go past this guy? I’m sure when opposing teams see his name on the team list they immediately put a strike through the words ‘aerial game’ on their strategy list. He’s the safest thing we’ve seen in the air in years. He also turns the impossible into the delightful with ball in hand. He’ll still be mesmorising defences in 2015.
10. Aaron Cruden
The future is here. Thank you Dan Carter for your wonderful service to New Zealand rugby but the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be Aaron Cruden’s time. Now back-to-back Super 15 Champion first five and still with a 100% winning record in tests he has started, Manawatu’s finest will be our best player to direct All Black traffic from the pivot at the 2015 tournament.
9. Aaron Smith
Continues to grow from strength to strength. Has shown that he belongs at this level and after back-to-back performances outplaying arguably the world’s top halfback (Will Genia) there are signs that he too may have it in him to be the worlds best come 2015.
8. Kieran Read
Possibly the most uncontentious selection across all enthusiast team lists for 2015. A natural leader and ball player, has all the markings to be in that top bracket of all-time All Black greats when he hangs up his boots.
7. Richie McCaw
His swansong. The Big Engine that always could. Will silence the doubters again. The G.O.A.T. Easy selection.
6. Steven Luatua
Will be a star of the game in 2015. A glimpse of a new prototype/hybrid rugby footballer, a player with the work ethic, graft and strength around the ruck fringes who can seamlessly take position in the backline as a great passer, runner and decisionmaker.
5. Sam Whitelock
A workhorse in the tight and around the field. Will be an automatic selection. He also brings tournament experience (will be his second RWC tournament).
4. Brodie Rettalick
A throwback in locking circles, will be a great asset for his hard edge and tenacious style. Will have grown into the role and will be firing on all cylinders come World Cup time.
3. Owen Franks
‘The Pitbull’ will be a 70+ test veteran of the game by the 2015 RWC Final – at the ripe old age of 27. Will still be a force in the game and possibly just hitting his straps at the tournament. Scary thought.
2. Dane Coles
Like Owen, Dane will also be 27 years of age but at a totally different point in his career. Yet to cement a place in the All Black squad at the moment, Dane has revealed glimpses of his ability with ball in hand. With Andrew Hore and Kevin Mealamu turning 36 in 2015 the tournament may be a bridge too far – so Dane, you’re next in line.
1. Tony Woodcock
Will be 34 years old, that’s only 28 in ‘Propping’ years. This would be Tony Woodcock’s final test for the All Blacks. The best loosehead on the planet at the moment, will have the fire to make one last statement before heading back to the farm in Kaukapakapa. An unassuming legend.
16. Andrew Hore / Kevin Mealamu – hoping one of these two can still provide us with impact from the bench
17. Charlie Faumuina – explosive runner, good scrummager
18. Luke Romano – powerful, great work ethic
19. Liam Meesam – strength, impacting ball runner
20. T.J Perenara – quick, great passer and decision-maker
21. Dan Carter – one of the all-time greats
22. Israel Dagg – you’ve seen what he can do
Potential bolters: Tom Taylor, Ryan Crotty, Brad Shields, Benji Marshall, Ardie Savea, Frank Halai, Ben Afeaki.
So that’s my 2015 RWC Final team prediction.
Keen to know who you think will be making noise come 2015 RWC time.
Exciting times ahead. Go the All Blacks.
Photo credits: Richie holding cup – www.stuff.co.nz, Ben Smith – uk.eurosport.yahoo.com, Sonny Bill Williams – www.foxsports.com.au, Steve Luatua – www.superxv.com