It’s never too early to start talking about who might make the All Blacks. Barely a week into the season, these are James McOnie’s top 11 candidates to pull on the black jersey for the first time this year.
The rugby season started in a big way at the weekend. It was a massive TV marathon (six games back-to-back! 12 straight hours of glorious Super Rugby!), the likes of which hasn’t been seen since they played all the Police Academy movies on Sky just before Christmas.
After one round of games it feels like the perfect time to see who’s on the All Blacks selectors’ radar.
The Ioane brothers (Blues): Rieko only played the curtain-raiser on Friday night but it’s pretty clear he’s going all the way, so why fight it? Big brother Akira came on as a sub against the Highlanders and he did enough to suggest that the wheels are still on the Ioane hype wagon. Or hypemobile. You choose, it’s early days.
Blake Gibson (Blues openside): Ran over the top of Ben Smith to score a try. That’s not how you treat a World Cup hero but Blake doesn’t give two hoots. He’s all like “I’m coming through so either lay out the welcome mat or BE the welcome mat!”
Liam Squire (Highlanders No 8): Shit he looked promising before he got injured. An enigma with a Mills & Boon name.
Elliott Dixon (Highlanders blindside): He looks a lot like the grown version of the kid who pressured you into sharing your school lunch with him. Amazing last year, looks ominously good again.
Taleni Seu (Chiefs blindside): What a find! Some big tackles and aerial mastery. He’s a former basketballer which is no surprise because that’s what tall people do.
Damian McKenzie (Chiefs fullback): He “Davided” Goliath when he took down Nemani Nadolo. Scored a try. Kicked some goals. Smiled creepily before he kicked. Good at everything. He’s the guy at the party who’ll dance, drink the right amount, be the wingman, talk to the parents and tidy up afterwards. What’s not to like?
Charlie Ngatai (Chiefs second five): He knows Hansen needs a 12 so he’s out there trying to get noticed like a man with a fish on Tinder. He didn’t land any big ones on Saturday night but if he keeps casting the net Shag might swipe right. If you’re really old this analogy will make no sense to you.
Seta Tamanivalu (Chiefs centre): A battery game — some positive, some negative. Hansen has his eye on him big time. A volcano waiting to erupt.
Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders first five): Didn’t do much wrong and had the Crusaders won, the headlines might’ve been about him and not McKenzie. The best sidestepping is yet to come.
Kara Pryor (Blues openside): OK, I didn’t see much of the younger Pryor but someone get him a Hollywood agent, because this guy has movie star looks. I’m not joking. He makes Channing Tatum look like a potato!