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All Blacks have selection options; only concerns for Wallabies, Boks
Craig Dowd
May 5, 2016

It's been interesting to observe aspects of South African rugby in recent weeks, and given the way New Zealand teams have been dominating Super Rugby it is nice that Steve Hansen and his team can prepare for the Wales series without any of the issues affecting the other Rugby Championship nations.

Looking at South Africa first: they have taken an age before appointing their new coach Allister Coetzee, which cannot have made his task of choosing a squad for the June internationals any easier.

Then they have had the distraction of the government calling the tune on their transformation demands, the way that sports teams should be more representative of the ethnic make-up of their international teams. There has been talk again of the Springbok emblem coming under threat and there has been the inability of the South African franchise teams to get the wood on the New Zealand.

The way in which the Hurricanes beat the Lions by 50 points must have been a real wake-up call. It wasn't so much that 50 points were posted, it was the way it was done. The Hurricanes only had 39 percent of the ball! They picked off two intercept tries - something of an art form where Bryan Habana used to be concerned.

The Lions have impressed with their play this year, their win over the Chiefs in Hamilton being especially significant. But when the Hurricanes got their measure they were unable to change their method of attack and with Ardie Savea and co. dominating in the loose there was no way back.

You would have to say that the Sharks, although going down to the Chiefs in New Plymouth, demonstrated that they are an emerging unit and they face some interesting selection choices now that Pat Lambie is fit again. The replacement at first-five Garth April showed just what potential he has when scoring his brilliant solo try against the Chiefs.

A clearer picture of where the Sharks are at should come with their game against the Hurricanes this weekend.

The Stormers losing to the Waratahs would not have helped the mood in the Republic and they need to get firing again as well.

Australia have not been without their issues either. The Brumbies saga over their chief executive coming and going in the legal wrangle with the board is not something that needs to affect the players, but you can't help wondering if it has an unsettling effect on the side. Now that it has been resolved the players can get back on with restoring their season which took a hammering again with the Highlanders claiming a win in Invercargill.

© Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images

That was an impressive defensive effort and demonstrated the collectiveness there is in the southern side. The tackle ratio was something like 3:1, but the Brumbies couldn't crack them.

But the battle in Australia is not only confined to the Brumbies. Clearly the Force have been struggling and it appears the Reds may finally be getting some momentum.

The side who have been really setting the pace are the Rebels, although there is a feeling that at the business end of the season the Australian heavyweights, the Waratahs and Brumbies, will be doing the business.

They certainly demonstrated their spirit against the Blues; but really when 36-18 up, the Blues should have run rampant. However they did their best to let the Rebels back in the game.

The Waratahs are without the Michael Cheika influence, but Daryl Gibson was understudy to him for long enough to be able to sort things out. After their win over the Stormers they may be on the way back, but they need to wrap up some more wins fairly quickly if they are to emerge top of the conference.

© Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

With all the bullets Eddie Jones is firing in Australia's direction ahead of his England team's tour, you have to wonder how Cheika is going to handle what will be intense scrutiny of how his side, the beaten World Cup finalists, handle the England threat.

All the talk about England being on the road back could be put in its place if Australia could claim the series; but are the players ready to take on that challenge? Personally, I would back Cheika to bring the best out of selected players.

In New Zealand, the thoughts are starting to turn towards the likely composition of the first All Blacks squad of the year. We already know that a solid core of experience has been lost; so what will be the approach of the selectors?

Who become the new leadership team in the All Blacks? Clearly Kieran Read has the captaincy and No.8 sorted, Sam Cane will be the openside and is acknowledged for his leadership qualities. Lock Sam Whitelock has been around long enough to contribute from the middle row while hooker Dane Coles will be a key contributor as well.

© Stefan Postles/Getty Images

Ben Smith will be part of that group in the backline, but he is an interesting prospect. Given Nehe Milner-Skudder is out, will the selectors play Smith on the wing and try Damian McKenzie at full-back? It may not happen in the first Test but could happen off the bench or later in the series.

Half-back Aaron Smith may be another taken into the leadership group; he is such a key performer for the All Blacks now and if Aaron Cruden is the preferred option at first-five then he too, would join that group.

As for the make-up of the side there has been some talk that Jerome Kaino may find himself under pressure from the likes of Elliot Dixon. It's likely the selectors will have Kaino as their No.6, but it would not surprise to see Dixon on the reserves bench to cover blindside and No.8, and perhaps lock if necessary.

© Hannah Peters/Getty Images

I think most people would have Ardie Savea as the back-up to Cane on the open-side flank.

The midfield is the other area of interest. Charlie Ngatai is reported to be back in action this week for the Chiefs. He was playing well before his injury and has enough time to stake his claim. Both he and Ryan Crotty are likely to be in the squad and it is a case of what the selectors are looking for.

It may be that if Smith is chosen for the wing that McKenzie and Israel Dagg contest the full-back position.

There is a lot of room for conjecture so it will be interesting to see how the likely players produce during May.

© Craig Dowd