Chris Rattue: Big name All Blacks who won't make it at the World Cup

Chris Rattue, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 8 August 2018, 7:37PM
Will Captain Kieran Read make it to the 2019 World Cup? (Photo / Photosport)
Will Captain Kieran Read make it to the 2019 World Cup? (Photo / Photosport)

Everything is smelling of roses after the All Blacks announced their Rugby Championship squad, following victory over France and the dominant Crusaders team winning Super Rugby in test-class style.

Yet serious injury and allied form issues plus advancing years are lurking, ready to undermine the World Cup three-peat bid.

It's hard to see all of the following big names making it to Japan, or being anywhere near their best if they do.

Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams

The odds on both leading second five-eighths even making the World Cup aren't great, considering their mounting injury/concussion issues.

Crotty has had four concussions in two years and remains on alert for symptoms that will force him to retire. And Crotty is injury prone in general.

Williams will be 34 by the time of the tournament, and is showing signs of wear and tear – you are more likely to see him on a TV interview than a footy field this year.

The All Blacks' Ngani Laumape Communication Development Project isn't a mere side issue. No 12 looks quite strong, yet it's a potential problem zone.

What sight...Dane Coles in full flight. Photo / Photosport

What sight...Dane Coles in full flight. Photo / Photosport

Dane Coles

By my reckoning, the injury-ravaged Coles has been surpassed permanently as the top choice hooker which is a nod to how far Codie Taylor has come.

At his best, Coles was peerless, an open field whirlwind on the test scene. But he will never reach those heights again at his age and with such long absences.

Taylor meanwhile has developed into a top-notch tight forward who stands out with the odd nice touch.

Coles has been cut down in his prime by two operations on the same knee, a mysterious concussion, plus rib and calf issues. He might make the tournament, but we've seen the best of the amazing Dane Coles.

Nehe Milner-Skudder

The selectors must know something that the public isn't getting to see. Milner-Skudder, dogged by terrible injury luck, is unrecognisable from the fast stepping sensation of old so far in his comeback.

He will be approaching 29 by the World Cup, an age at which great All Black wings with much better injury luck reached the end of the road. Would love to be proved wrong though.

TJ Perenara

This one isn't injury related. Perenara escaped the scrutiny heaped on Beauden Barrett and Laumape in the misfiring Hurricanes.

Yet Barrett is in the spotlight via the growing army of Richie Mo'unga fans, while All Black coach Steve Hansen's revealing comments about poor communication have put Laumape in the gun.

We all want to know what is going on so fair play to Hansen for being up front, but it means poor Laumape has inadvertently carried the can for Barrett's struggles.

To my eyes, Perenara – with far more experience than Laumape – was playing like a chook with his head cut off rather than using his experience to save the Hurricanes.

TJ Perenara. Photo / Photosport

TJ Perenara. Photo / Photosport

A source suggested to me that Barrett, at one point during the past year or so, felt so stressed in having to single-handedly drive the Hurricanes around that he needed outside support.

Yet the concentration on Perenara is diluted because Aaron Smith reigns supreme and match-hardened backups of sufficient ability are apparently in short supply.

It is a looming issue though, particularly after Perenara's poor 2015 World Cup. Alternatives may have to be found.

Kieran Read

The best No 8 we've ever had, an absolute legend, but his best form is in the past.

There is no guarantee Read will even recover sufficiently to command the No 8 position, after enduring major back surgery. Remember, a leading specialist said the future for Read would be uncertain, and that 10 per cent of those disc operations don't work.

A slightly off-peak Read would still be invaluable, as a player and leader, but Hansen faces the trickiest call of his long All Black tenure if Read's back flares up or his form slips into a grey area. Both are real possibilities.

Ben Smith

A modern rugby wonder, but a 33-year-old fullback/wing with a concussion history? Sad to say that is not close to being a sure 2019 bet.