Perhaps it is merely wishful thinking, but the thought lingers that something is amiss in the All Blacks World Cup camp.
Have the unfavourable results of recent years – the two losses to Ireland, one loss and a draw plus two two-point wins against the Springboks and a shared series with the British and Irish Lions – shaken the defending champions’ confidence? And what about their first place in the rankings where they have been for a decade that no longer belongs to them, despite the rejection of the ranking system by head coach Steve Hansen?
Somehow there is a feeling – and that is not merely a hopeful South African perception if word from New Zealand is to be believed – that New Zealand’s team selection and the overlooking of some stalwarts during the season and especially with the selection for the World Cup, was done a little haphazardly.
- Veteran prop Owen Franks, with more than a century of caps, is suddenly not good enough as Hansen and co are looking for props that are also ball carriers. He has been replaced by the more mobile Atu Moli, promising but inexperienced.
And when did this new view of dumping experience for mobility strike the selectors? It is obviously a belated new approach as Franks started for the national team until two weeks before the World Cup team was announced.
- Have the All Blacks made a firm decision about their flyhalf yet, or will the uncertainty of playing Beauden Barrett (at fullback) and Richie Mo'unga (at flyhalf) in the same starting side be persevered with?
Was it a resounding success with a yes vote, of is there still doubt? This question follows after Barrett was back as starting flyhalf in the thrashing of Tonga.
- Many fans were equally puzzled by No 12 Ngani Laumape missing the cut with Jack Goodhue, Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown all preferred in midfield.
Is injury-prone Sonny Bill Williams fit for the tournament? He has been struggling with injuries for the past two seasons (in fact, throughout his career) and missed a large portion of the Super Rugby series after a knee operation. On his return, he had a tight hamstring that also kept him from making a scheduled comeback at club level.
Sonny Bill was again injured when the All Blacks had their first training run in Japan last week. The All Blacks management insists it isn’t serious and that Williams will not return home because of the calf injury.
They will, however, remain concerned that further injury does not strike the injury-prone star.
- There is also the shoulder injury to arguably the world’s best lock Brodie Retallick. As things now stand, he is still on schedule to make his WC debut in the play-offs, although Retallick himself aims to make an appearance in the last pool match against Italy to shake off the cobwebs.
“We don't expect him to play in the round-robin, but we're reasonably sure he should make the quarterfinals, and from there we don't know," said Hansen. "We've rolled the dice and we'll see what happens. We think he's worthy of that risk."
Retallick had an on-and-off Super Rugby season because of a wrist injury that forced him to the sidelines for six weeks. Then he injured his shoulder in the 16-all drawn Rugby Championship test against the Springboks.
- And let’s not forget the Liam Squire case. Unavailable until the day before World Cup selection because Squire felt he wasn’t mentally and physically ready for the tournament, Hansen and his co-selectors left him behind.
However, they had the opportunity to pick the experienced stalwart when new boy Luke Jacobson had to be replaced because of concussion issues after the first training session in Japan.
Instead, Jacobson was replaced by Shannon Frizell. Was it merely a tit-for-tat reaction of “I’ll show you who is in charge” to Squire from the selectors?
It is, of course, now the time where the mind-games begin, but the above seem than more than mind-games. There have been a few questionable decisions made, and the question is whether the All Blacks will come to rue that.