Rugby World Cup: Picking a form All Blacks XV from this season

·7-min read
New-Zealand_-Split-with-de-groot-Stevenson-and-McKenzie. Credit: Alamy
New-Zealand_-Split-with-de-groot-Stevenson-and-McKenzie. Credit: Alamy

As the club season draws to a close and the international games and Rugby World Cup are fast approaching, Planet Rugby picks the form XVs from each country.

Next up, we look at New Zealand and it’s clear that those in stronger form are largely on the periphery of the squad, which makes for an interesting side.

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New-look backline

15 Shaun Stevenson: Without doubt the standout full-back this Super Rugby Pacific campaign, Stevenson has consistently impressed us and we believe he cannot do much more to push his way into the All Blacks squad. Whether it’s for the Chiefs or Maori All Blacks, he delivers the goods and with the All Blacks not having a nailed on full-back, could now be the time for Stevenson to make the shirt his own? It would be a huge call from the selectors but the right one.

14 Emoni Narawa: Injuries to Sevu Reece and the absence of Will Jordan, who has now thankfully returned, opened the door on the right wing this season. Mark Telea started like a house on fire as he continued his strong 2022 with a decent opening to 2023, but he has since dropped off slightly. Narawa meanwhile is in dazzling form in a hot Chiefs side and it would be no surprise to see him picked by the All Blacks this year. A lethal finisher who looks the real deal.

Established midfield

13 Rieko Ioane: Daniel Rona has had a solid campaign at the high-flying Chiefs but we feel Ioane has been the most consistent number 13 in New Zealand. An established figure in the All Blacks midfield, Ioane has developed his game in recent seasons as he converted from a wing to centre and now looks very much at home in this position. While the Blues haven’t been in top form in 2023, they still remain in the mix ahead of the play-offs where Ioane could be crucial.

12 Jordie Barrett: It became apparent late last year that Barrett’s future home lay at inside centre and he’s now settled in the 12 spot at the ‘Canes. His power, creativity and booming boot are better served closer to the action and we have him ahead of David Havili in our form ranking. Anton Lienert-Brown’s return to action last weekend is massive for both the Chiefs and New Zealand moving forward and he hit the ground running against the Highlanders in Dunedin.

11 Caleb Clarke: Such a consistent performer on the left wing, Clarke has proven his worth to the Blues and All Blacks numerous times and gets the call here. Crusaders wing Leicester Fainga’anuku is of course a rampaging threat of similar impact and has caught the eye with nine tries thus far in 2023. But it was Clarke that just got the nod due to his ability to bust the opposition defensive line at will – a statistic he tops at the moment in Super Rugby Pacific.

Bolter at scrum-half

10 Damian McKenzie: Possibly one of our biggest selection calls, as he usurps both Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett, but on form it is hard to ignore how well McKenzie is performing. Often thrown from 15 to 10 and back again, it must be pleasing for the player to be pretty much locked in as a fly-half as he matures in years. He’s led this Chiefs side to the summit and it’s going to take a brave Ian Foster to tell him he’s not at least in the starting conversation.

9 Cam Roigard: If McKenzie was backed to start in black over the aforementioned duo in pre-season would have come as a surprise, then Roigard’s case for a start would have stunned many. But there is growing noise around the young scrum-half after his consistent showings for the Hurricanes. Aaron Smith and Brad Weber are two reliable options but going on Super Rugby Pacific form, it’s hard to argue that the seven-try Roigard has been the pick of the crop at the base.

Give Pita Gus a shot

8 Ardie Savea: It will come as little surprise due to his incredible consistency that Savea is our form number eight at the moment. A player who empties the tank round after round, he gets the nod over the Chiefs’ Luke Jacobson. Both have been impressive while Hoskins Sotutu has also stood out, but in patches.

7 Sam Cane: It’s a credit to Cane that he has put himself ahead of rival for the All Blacks shirt, Dalton Papali’i, here. We were on the Papali’i train last year and in truth the Blues man hasn’t let his performances dip at Super Rugby Pacific level, which shows just how well Cane is playing at the moment. His physicality on either side of the ball are the hallmarks of Cane’s game and he looks full of confidence thanks in no small part to how the Chiefs are tracking.

6 Pita Gus Sowakula: Could the All Blacks look again at the outstanding Chiefs flanker? It’s an interesting question as Sowakula is still eligible ahead of his move to Clermont at the end of the NPC season – or the Rugby World Cup – and if he maintains this form then surely Foster will make the call. Highlanders back-row Shannon Frizell is next in line after solid outings in a disappointing season for the club while Ethan Blackadder’s awful luck with injuries continues.

Familiar lock pairing

5 Sam Whitelock: The veteran second-row remains a class operator in the line-out, and whilst he has missed some of the season, the Crusaders always look better with him commanding the set-piece. There is no doubting his quality and his influence ahead of the Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup later this year. Chiefs star Tupou Vaa’i continues to mature as a player and has been in good form for his club side. He will soon be primed and ready to take over from the great All Black.

4 Brodie Retallick: The hard-working grit of the experienced campaigner has been a constant throughout his career, and that has remained this season. Retallick is an accomplished second-row in every sense of the word and has been vital for the Chiefs in their record run. Just behind him is the Crusaders skipper Scott Barrett who is a classy operator and one who has grown tremendously with the leadership mantle in Christchurch over the last few seasons.

Most improved player

3 Tamaiti Williams: One of the standout players this campaign as Williams has been a formidable presence in the tight exchanges and around the field for the Crusaders. While we’ve also been impressed by Tyrel Lomax at the Hurricanes, Williams’ form has been off the charts as he could be set for a memorable year.

2 Samisoni Taukei’aho: New Zealand is well stocked at hooker as the likes of Codie Taylor and Asafo Aumua are in decent form while there is always Dane Coles to lean on should they need an experienced head. But if the All Blacks can keep Chiefs wrecking ball Taukei’aho fit then he is surely their present and future in the two jersey. He has pretty much everything a hooker would crave as his set-piece, pace, power and eye for the try-line make him a special talent.

1 Ethan de Groot: The loosehead prop has been one of the few shining lights for the Highlanders showcasing his prowess in the set-piece and work rate in open play. The 24-year-old is looking fit and playing brilliant rugby. His tackle counts are always high, and his scrummaging notably improved. Outside of De Groot is Crusaders star Joe Moody who has look good this season as well but is sometimes guilty of a high penalty count.

READ MORE: Rugby World Cup: Picking a form Springboks XV from this season

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