It's the end of the season so it's time to take stock.
The main lesson is : NZ depth is not so bad.
Props : De Groot and Lomax have stepped up nicely and are now world class, which was unthinkable at the beginning of the year. What is odd is that neither was in the ABs original squad. Bower and Newell seem to be the best options behind them. Ofa T and Ta'avao must not be written off though. Laulala has shown he is really past it. I don't see any of the younger props (Norris, Williams, Brewis) or of the older ones (Hodgman, Ross) being called into the future squad. But I may be wrong. The only exception would be Mafileo who has been very good for the Steamers and for the AB XV.
Hookers : Taylor is nearly back to his best. He and ST are certainties for the next WC, barring injuries, of course. The cupboard is rather bare behind them. Coles is always injured, Aumua does not have the trust of the selectors despite an excellent NPC, while Thompson hasn't got many playing minutes for the AB XV. McAllister was disappointing against the Barbarians. Was he carrying a niggling injury ? I reckon he is better than showed that day.
Locks : BBBR, SW and SB are among the best locks in the world, when fully fit. Behind them, the gap is huge. Patrick Tuipolutu has been disappointing - again - for the AB XV. He is not playing up to his inner qualities. Dickson is reliable but not world class, I fear. Vaai'i is another who has not played to the level we all expected from him. His development is not going too fast, to say the least. The RWC is one year too early for the likes of Gallagher, Sangster and Holland. They will probably feature in 2024. Lachlan McWhannell is - maybe - the most talented among the young locks. But he is made of glass. I hope he will show his worth during next year's SR.
I wouldn't mind having Dom Bird in the squad if he can keep on showing his form of the last stages of the NPC. At last, what about PPP ?
Blindside : SB is - for the moment - the best choice, as Akira Ioane and Shannon Frizell did not show any convincing displays. Ioane has the highest ceiling but he is not used where his strength would be the most effective. I would like to see more of MMT there. He has all the qualities required : brutal strength and high workrate. Let's see what Blackadder and Grace will show during next year's SR. Are they big enough for the job ? Luke Jacobson is a fine player but his lack of physicality - as shown during the Barbarians game - will probably keep him out of contention. He did OK against Ireland A when playing on the openside. Possible bolters for an AB squad : Tom Robinson, Caleb Delaney, Cameron Suafoa ? I don't believe they will be near a call into the ABs.
Openside : Dalton P is probably the best. Foster's choice for the next year should be interesting. Cane is the ABs captain but he would struggle to get a cap if he was French, English, Irish, Scottish, South African or even Italian (Lamaro is a far better player IMO). Behind those two, Harmon is probably the next in line and then, a lot of journeymen (Kirifi, Christie, Lentjes, Gibson, Choat). Let's see if Lakai could slip into this role. He is not big enough for an international Nr.8. Has he the qualities required for an openside LF ? I see him as a running 7, but not as a fetcher.
Nr.8 : Who behind Savea ? Sotutu is the next in line but hasn't delivered what we could expect from such a gifted player. MMT could be the big bruising Nr.8 needed for the international level. I still believe Akira Ioane's best position is Nr.8 as it is a looser role, with more ball carrying chances in the open where his pace and power are devastating. Let's forget Jacobson and Grace for this job as they are not physical enough. I don't believe in Lio-Willie's nor Flanders' chances to get a call.
Half-back : Who behind Aaron Smith ? TJP was outstanding for the AB XV and against Scotland but had a shocking brain explosion at Twickenham. What to expect from him next year ? Christie is not yet up to the task IMO. Maybe playing against the country of his birth was too much for him ?
Weber could be the safest option, though he is a liability in defence, as shown by the Barbarians. Will Fakatava be fit for the end of June ? If not, his chances to get a call should be very slim. I like what I saw of Ratima in his short cameo against the Barbarians. His delivery is quick and he is a danger around the rucks, so he keeps the defence guessing, which is good. He could be a bolter for next year's RWC, as could be Cam Roigard. This guy has nearly all the qualities for the job, experience aside. The problem is : for a RWC, you need experience.
1st Five : this is where the problem is the biggest for the ABs. though RM was voted man of the match vs England, I am among those who think that he had a shocker. Two missed touch findings have killed the forwards well done job and his inaptitude to kill the game in the last quarter is asking more questions than giving answers we were waiting for before the tour. DMac is the next in line now after BB's poor displays. He is more diamonds than rocks but those few rocks could be costly. I seriously doubt he could leapfrog RM next year.
And then there is Perofeta. The poor soul got only two minutes on the paddock during this NH tour. During these 120 seconds, he managed to show his kicking from hand is better than BB's though.
2nd Five : JB has cemented his place as there are no other good options, right now. Will Foster stick with Havili despite his costly blunders (against France last year and against Scotland a few days ago) and his inability to break a defensive line ? ALB is probably the safest option behind JB though he was very poor during the last quarter against England. He looked completely lost but this was probably due to a collective deficiency. Will Goodhue recover his fitness completely ? I rate him a lot. He is a calmhead player and his technical skills are excellent.
RTS has yet to show he is ready for the highest level. He was OKish during the SR and for the AB XV. He will surely be better next year. Alex Nankivell has shown a lot of improvements this year. If Havili is deemed big and physical enough for the job, then why not him ? He has a good ability to beat his opposite number in one / one situations. Then there are the UJ brothers. Both are always injured which is a shame, of course, as they are both talented. Thomas' profile could be useful in the international stage. I have doubts about his pace though.
Centre : RI is the only option at the present time. ALB had a shocker against Scotland but he was coming back from a long injury. Let's see if he and Goodhue will retrieve their qualities pre-injuries. The other options are LF and Ennor, but I don't see them earn a call there for the RWC. And then B. Sullivan (not yet ready for the higher level) and Aumua (eligibility ?).
Left wing : The incumbent is Clarke. He did well against England but he is not yet the finished product. The other options are : LF (I am not sure of his finishing capabilities), Reece and Telea. The latter two seem more comfortable on the right wing. AJ Lam has a lot of qualities but seems not concerned at times. In terms of physical wing, I'd have him above LF in the rankings. Rayasi is incredibly gifted but his mindset is questionable. He is rocks and diamonds. I like his left foot which is something lacking in the ABs. Ennor could be used there if really needed.
Right wing : Telea's tour has been a big success. NZ are blessed with three quality men there (Telea, Jordan, Reece). Can Stevenson break into the AB squad ? He has so much talent.
Full back : BB is the incumbent but many think Will Jordan should be a better option. JB is now used as a 2nd five and we all hope he will stay there. DMac, Love, Stevenson and Moorby are the other options.