The All Blacks have announced a 36-man squad for the 2022 Steinlager Series against Ireland in July, and there are some noticeable omissions and inclusions.
With less than 15 months until the 2023 Rugby World Cup kicks off, the All Blacks will be eager to start 2022 strong. They’ll also be after a bit of redemption, coming off their worst season in a decade, where they recorded three losses for the first time in a season since 2011–including their first back-to-back defeats in 12 years.
Here’s a look at some of the main talking points from the selectors’ decisions
Perenara misses out, Fakatava and Christie in
Heading into this series, many were asking how the selectors would respond to last year’s string of poor performances. Would they ring wholesale changes, or double down on incumbents?
While the squad announced on Monday doesn’t exactly reflect dramatic changes across the board, a few heads have rolled from the 2021 season—most notably that of TJ Perenara.
Perenara had a relatively quiet Super Rugby season by his standards. Across ten matches, his running game was noticeably weak, with only 33 carries across 10 games producing 65 meters. Add 11 missed tackles to this, as well as a Hurricanes team that never really got going and folded when it mattered in the quarterfinals, and Perenara wasn’t exactly banging on the All Black’s door.
Instead, Folau Fakatava, Aaron Smith and Finlay Christie were all named at halfback, leaving no room for the 30-year-old Perenara.
It’s a big call by the selectors. Despite his slow season, there’s no denying the leadership and experience Perenara brings to the All Blacks’ fold. With 78 All Black caps, there’s really no comparison to Finlay Christie’s five, of Folau Fakatava’s zero.
Nevertheless, the All Black selectors have chosen to go for youth and form over experience in this position.
Karl Tu’inukuafe selected despite France departure
You’ve got to wonder if Karl Tu’inukuafe saw this one coming.
With the 29-year-old prop facing increasing pressure from a handful of young, up-and-coming front rowers in New Zealand, last month it was announced that Tu’inukuafe will be heading to France at the end of the year to play for Montpellier.
Having been resigned to the Blue’s bench for the majority of this season, it felt like the move of a man who knows when his time is up, and wants to go make a little money abroad while he can. The All Blacks very rarely select players planning to head off-shore, and with all plans focused on the 2023 Rugby World Cup, it seemed almost guaranteed we’d seen the last of Tu’inukuafe in a black jersey.
It’s safe to say, then, that his selection on Monday was a surprise for everyone.
Perhaps more befuddling, is the decision to leave out Ethan de Groot. Surely the Southland prop needs to be a part of the All Blacks plan for 2023, and with Tu’inukuafe unavailable next year, why not continue his development now?
The only explanation is an All Blacks group that desperately wants to win the upcoming series against Ireland, at all costs.
Fainga’anuku sees form rewarded out wide
Many will be pleased to see Super Rugby’s top try scorer, Leicester Fainga’anuku, have his form rewarded by a call up to the All Black squad.
While at times the All Black selectors have chosen to select known quantities, rather than reward current form, it seems they’ve finally caved to the irresistible form of the Crusader’s winger. With ten tries this year, Fainga’anuku has backed up his red hot form from last year, where many thought he was unlucky to get selected.
Interestingly, Fainga’anuku has started in the midfield for the Crusaders several times this year. With Ian Foster adverse to playing Jordie Barrett in the centers, Fainga’anuku could be an option at 12 as well, should the All Blacks want to add some physicality to their midfield.
Other notable talking points from Monday’s announcement include: Pita Gus Sowakula getting his first call up; Sam Cane retaining captaincy despite form and injuries; Blue’s Tom Robinson missing out in the loose forwards; and league super star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck being fast tracked into the All Blacks off the back of his first Super Rugby season.