With the Rugby World Cup 2015 fast approaching, the All Blacks selectors will choose 41 players to prepare for their 2015 internationals, including a test in Samoa and a condensed Rugby Championship, with such a large squad and the clash with the Super Rugby final and the All Blacks first ever test in Samoa, there will be an opportunity for selectors to pick a decent amount of bolters.
The Hurricanes and Chiefs are the most likely New Zealand teams to feature in the Super Rugby final, although given the format, it is tough for two teams from the same country to meet in the final. If the Hurricanes do make the final, then the All Blacks will have to cope in Samoa without most of their starting backline and a sprinkling of forwards.
The Highlanders and Crusaders are at longer odds, but both do have the ability to at least make the Top Six, depending on how they finish the season.
So who are the potential All Blacks bolters with the Samoa test just around the corner?
1) Jordan Taufua (Crusaders) – Taufua might get a look in as the next Liam Messam. He has impressed for the Crusaders in 2015 on the blindside.
2) Akira Ioane (Blues) – It could be too soon for this 19 year old Blues loose forward, but he has been very impressive in the last few rounds of Super Rugby. The bonus for Ioane is that the Blues definitely won’t be in the final.
3) Codie Taylor (Crusaders) – The Crusaders have used Codie Taylor sparingly this season, but there is a third hooker spot available in the All Blacks behind Dane Coles and Keven Mealamu. Codie Taylor is the full package and looks to be surpassing the likes of Nathan Harris in 2015. He will probably be in a battle with Hika Elliot and James Parsons for the third hooker spot, although Liam Coltman has also been playing well.
4) Brad Weber (Chiefs) – With TJ Perenara in the Hurricanes and likely to make the Super Rugby final if they can hold their nerve, there is a spot open for another halfback behind Perenara and Aaron Smith. Weber has displaced Pulu in the Chiefs and it also looks like he has probably surpassed him in the NZ pecking order. With Tawera Kerr-Barlow still out injured and the All Blacks likely to take three halfbacks to the Rugby World Cup, Weber is a strong chance as a fast pacing and running halfback. Veterans Jimmy Cowan and Andy Ellis look to be out of the running.
5) James Lowe (Chiefs) – With a large part of the All Blacks backline in the Hurricanes, there could well be a spot for a few bolters. James Lowe is a dynamic, strong and fast left winger who must be close to All Blacks selection.
6) George Moala (Blues) – The Blues mid to late season revival has been thanks to the likes of Ioane and George Moala who has been a revelation at second five eighth. Moala has utility value and could well feature since the Blues won’t be in the final.
7) Damian McKenzie (Chiefs) – In his first year of Super Rugby, Damian McKenzie has been impressive. We would like to see him start for the Chiefs in the Number 10 jersey. He can also cover fullback and could be a good option for the Apia test match with his versatility and given that Beauden Barrett could also be tied up with the Super Rugby final.
8) Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders) – Sopoaga is widely regarded as the next cab off the rank and given that Cruden is injured and Barrett is injured now, but could feature in a Super Rugby final, then Sopoaga could well get gametime in Apia if either Slade or Carter are not available.
9) Nehe Milner-Skudder (Hurricanes)
Milner-Skudder is electric, but is a long shot for the All Blacks. If the Hurricanes for some reason miss out on the Super Rugby final, then he could come into contention, although Tom Marshall from the Chiefs could also be considered an option who can cover fullback.
10) Tom Marshall (Chiefs) – With the All Blacks set to lose a number of backs next season and with a swagger of Hurricanes potentially missing from the Apia test, Tom Marshall could have some value as a utility instead of the injured Charles Piutau.
Who are your All Blacks bolters for 2015?