Surprises in All Blacks squad
August 25, 2003
When NZRFU Chairman Jock Hobbs named the above 30-man All Black World Cup squad at the Ponsonby Club on Monday evening , the surprises were not so much among the omissions as in the inclusion of Daniel Braid and Corey Flynn.
Overseas, rugby followers may well be astounded by the omission of the likes of Christian Cullen, Andrew Mehrtens, Taine Randell, Anton Oliver and Jonah Lomu, and the prospect of a World Cup without the planet's most famous number 11. But to be fair to coach John Mitchell , he had made it fairly clear that the famous five were very unlikely to figure in his World Cup plans. Cullen enjoyed a return to form in this year's Super 12 , but a succession of knee operations have taken that crucial edge off the blistering pace that made him such a dynamic and potent attacking force. Mehrtens has hardly played all year and is only now making a tentative return to NPC rugby. Only his reputation would have secured his place but Mitchell is not a man to place much value on reputations. Lomu is a sick man and will surely now accept that his playing days are over, Randell is already in England and Oliver seems to have lost out to the new dynamic breed of hooker now emerging in New Zealand.
Which explains the inclusion of 23 year old Southlander Corey Flynn , described by Mitchell as this evening's press conference as ' the most dynamic and powerful hooker in the country ' before he broke an arm in the middle of this year's Super 12. Speculation in the past week or so has centred on the likelihood that Mitchell would take a third hooker as back-up to Mealamu and Hammett and that the third man would have to accept his fate as someone who would not get any game time. But the praise heaped on Flynn by Mitchell makes a nonsense of that theory , Flynn will be at the World Cup as a real contender- and how extraordinary does that seem in the light of Keven Mealamu's magnificent Tri Nations form ?
Flynn's inclusion will probably overshadow the news of Aucklander Daniel Braid's inclusion. Obviously intent on having openside cover for McCaw and Holah , Mitchell had a clutch of good young players to choose from- Otago's Harding and Blackie being the most obvious . Braid first made an impact in Auckland's 2002 NPC -winning side , was then blooded on the end of season All Black trip to England , Wales and France before going on to play a major role in the Auckland Blues' Super 12 triumph. He is obviously a quality player.
The omission of Andrew Mehrtens will inevitably put the spotlight back on Carlos Spencer's goal kicking. With Ben Blair , Aaron Mauger and Dan Carter there are abundant alternatives should things begin to go wrong , but Spencer is clearly the first choice fly half . And why wouldn't he be , given the way in which he orchestrated the All Black backline in the Tri Nations . Can anyone seriously argue that the present All Black backline is the most exciting to watch in the world at the moment ?
Is this All Black squad good enough to win the World Cup ? I believe so, but it is going to take a mighty effort if , as seems likely, they meet Australia in the semi and England in the final. The forwards clearly do not possess the physical ruthlessness of All Black packs of the past, but the professional game has ushered in many changes , one of them being the sanitising of the game. Few forward packs these days demonstrate the ruthlessness which they could get away with in the days before video playbacks , citings and a much tighter disciplinary code. But they do possess formidable athleticism and footballing skills and , in the shape of Keven Mealamu , Ali Williams, Chris Jack , Richie McCaw and Jerry Collins a nucleus of world class potential. If the All Blacks win the World Cup these five will have all played mighty rugby.
The backs speak for themselves. The back three of Muliaina, Howlett and Rokocoko have shown remarkable strike power in recent weeks, Mauger and Umaga are a formidable midfield pairing and Spencer and Marshall at half back are at the peak of their careers. In 1995 the All Blacks were out-psyched by the Springboks, in 1999 they were mesmerised by the French. New Zealand badly needs to win this World Cup and in John Mitchell they may just have the man with the mental toughness to deliver a famous victory.
All Black World Cup squad: