But wait, didn't you already make this article Max? Well, technically speaking, yes... but no. For my YouTube channel, I updated my verdict on who the All Blacks will be formed by, for the 2023 Rugby World Cup; as Ian Foster has almost certainly pre-determined who will go to the World Cup.
A prediction of the 2023 Rugby World Cup squad, uploaded to my YouTube channel.
Since creating this video, Joe Moody, David Havili, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ethan Blackadder and Sam Whitelock; have all succumbed to injury. None of the four have been ruled out of the tournament, though three of those four players will not return until a particular stage of the Rugby Championship; while Whitelock is in doubt for the Super Rugby Pacific Final, should his team, the Crusaders, qualify.
With these injuries, or perhaps more to come, bound to play a role in Foster changing his mind, around certain positions, The Rugby Championship will see a slightly different-looking All Blacks contingency.
Though this will be the case, there is only one change I can see to my World Cup squad prediction, this position change being at...
1. Ethan de Groot (Highlanders)
2. Ofa Tu'ungafasi (Blues)
3. Aidan Ross (Chiefs)
4. Tyrel Lomax (Hurricanes)
5. Nepo Laulala (Blues)
6. Tamaiti Williams (Crusaders) - uncapped
With just six of the ten props capped by Foster available for selection, de Groot, Lomax and Tu'ungafasi are all certainties; the first two are first-choice players, while Tu'ungafasi has been a go-to off the bench throughout his entire career. It also goes without saying that Tamaiti Williams will be called in for a test debut; he's been one of the form players in Super Rugby.
50-test All Blacks prop, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, can cover both loosehead and tighthead prop, having started tests with both the 1 and 3 jersey on his back. Photo: Max Sharp.
Although he has just a single test cap under his belt, Ross will be almost certain for a re-call due to form, while he indeed remains on the radar; having been picked for the All Blacks XV last year after de Groot's test-level re-call. Although the Blues had a sluggish start to Super Rugby, Nepo Laulala has began to time his form correctly and has started reaching his highest heights in a long time at the scrum.
While I was initially predicting Laulala to miss out on the World Cup squad, his return to form will see him retained for The Rugby Championship, while Moody, having suffered an ACL injury in 2022 and now an ankle injury that will see him miss game time until the MCG test against the Wallabies; Round 3 of The Rugby Championship. After all these injuries, Moody may have played his last test.
7. Codie Taylor (Crusaders)
8. Samisoni Taukei'aho (Chiefs)
9. Dane Coles (Hurricanes)
Don't expect any tinkering at hooker from Foster, who has shown loyalty to Taylor, Taukei'aho and Coles throughout the World Cup cycle. Asafo Aumua appears to be out-of-favour, he was picked for the All Blacks XV in 2022 and did not play a test that year, while for once, Coles has been able to feature in a Super Rugby season, relatively uninterrupted; having avoided serious injury this year.
Aumua is a proven performer with the Hurricanes and has played 120 minutes of test rugby for Foster (including two starts at hooker), so can ultimately be trusted if injuries occur. Foster will wish to look at other uncapped options instead.
10. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
11. Tupou Vaa'i (Chiefs)
12. Sam Whitelock (Crusaders) - injury pending
While Foster will continue to select a third lock at 6; hence the lack of a discussion around Scott Barrett in this department, who does he call up should Whitelock not be fit?
Tupou Vaa'i (centre left) is pictured guarding the fringes of a ruck against the Reds at Yarrow Stadium. Photo: Max Sharp.
We know Brodie Retallick and Tupou Vaa'i will be in after their performances with the Chiefs, but Patrick Tuipulotu has a broken arm. Sources claim that this "should not affect his All Blacks selection", but with Whitelock currently plagued by an ongoing issue in his achilles, would you want to cover him with a player coming back from an injury of his own?
Should Tuipulotu not be back in time for The Rugby Championship, who is up next? Josh Lord has been handed a cruel turn of fate this season, only playing four games due to various injuries, while Josh Dickson may not be available after the passing of his brother. Should Tuipulotu and Whitelock both be unavailable, Cameron Suafoa is perhaps the best option.
13. Scott Barrett (Crusaders)
14. Shannon Frizell (Highlanders)
15. Akira Ioane (Blues)
16. Sam Cane (Chiefs)
17. Dalton Papali'i (Blues)
18. Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)
19. Hoskins Sotutu (Blues)
The selectors will inevitably name Barrett as a lock, but he'll be a loose forward in all but name. Cane and Savea are the first two names on Foster's team sheets, meaning Ioane will ultimately miss out on a spot at the World Cup, as the lineout and breakdown require balance.
Papali'i, Sotutu and Frizell have received Foster's loyalty throughout the entire cycle and have consistently been selected; aside from when they haven't been available, such as Frizell's omission from the 2022 Ireland series after lacking the game time neccesary.
Placings on their depth charts are almost certain to be the main citation for players' selections, especially for loose forwards who face stiff competition.
While the "so-and-so should be an All Black" social media comments, particularly apply to loose forwards and outside backs, Foster doesn't care for form and never will. With Savea already able to cover 6, 7 and 8; Luke Jacobson's late season surge in form will almost certainly be ignored, he is fifth on the blindside depth chart and third on the 8 depth chart.
Should Cane be injured, Ioane will likely get retained, with Frizell missing out. Ioane is first on the blindside depth chart, so will be the first specialist 6 to be considered.
20. Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
21. Finlay Christie (Blues)
22. Brad Weber (Chiefs)
23. Cam Roigard (Hurricanes) - uncapped
Stringent club-level cohesion between the second and third-choice players in the All Blacks' spine means uncapped players have little-to-no chance of attending the World Cup, as key decision-makers for the team. Aaron Smith, the first-choice player, has just simply been repeatedly selected alongside the other first-choice players in the team's spine, to establish Foster's combination-building first mentality.
Cam Roigard (centre) has taken the Hurricanes' 9 jersey by storm in 2023, having played for the All Blacks XV in 2022. Photo: Max Sharp.
With an absolute mess of a situation in midfield, with Jack Goodhue often injured, Quinn Tupaea out of the World Cup, Alex Nankivell uncapped and off to Munster, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's return to league and Bryce Heem uncapped at 34 years old; there may now be extra room for either a fourth 9, or a fourth 10.
Christie is set to be retained as the second-choice, Weber as the third-choice, but Foster may now have a look at Cam Roigard, after he was able to back his round-robin form up in the Hurricanes' quarter-final loss against the Brumbies. My initial prediction around Roigard may now end up being wrong, especially considering the depth chart would show a fourth-choice Hurricanes player for two positions, hooker and halfback; under Foster.
24. Richie Mo'unga (Crusaders)
25. Beauden Barrett (Blues)
26. Damian McKenzie (Chiefs)
Stephen Perofeta, the only player Foster has used as a back-up option for these three players, has been coming off the bench for the Blues recently, after some injury struggles. Aidan Morgan, the most promising up-and-coming 10 in the country, has also been completely mismanaged by the Hurricanes; while Lincoln McClutchie has remained Moana Pasifika's second-choice, behind Christian Leali'ifano.
These circumstances mean Mo'unga's place as the first-choice will be completely uncontested, though Barrett and McKenzie will certainly be engaged in a battle for the 10-15 cover off the bench.
27. Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs)
28. Rieko Ioane (Blues)
29. Levi Aumua (Moana Pasifika) - uncapped
30. Braydon Ennor (Crusaders)
Considering the aforementioned circumstances used to justify my predictions at 9, expect to see just four midfielders in the team initially. Havili will obviously return once he's recovered from his hamstring injury, but will be unable to play against Argentina and South Africa.
Quinn Tupaea, who has covered wing and centre for the Chiefs, will be unable to participate at the 2023 Rugby World Cup due to tears sustained in multiple knee ligaments. Photo: Max Sharp.
Given his horror run of injuries from 2022, a fit-again Anton Lienert-Brown will be better off with game time in combination with Rieko Ioane being renewed, while Braydon Ennor's defence has improved significantly in 2023, so his spot will likely be retained.
Havili's Tasman teammate, Levi Aumua, should be set to be looked at after beating 71 defenders, scoring 5 tries and distributing 9 offloads in 2023. Aumua is big, but also a good passer and tackler, his tackle rate for 2023 was 82%. Having avoided injury, he is a much safer option than Goodhue, while he is indeed on the radar, having played for the All Blacks XV in 2022.
31. Caleb Clarke (Blues)
32. Will Jordan (Crusaders)
33. Emoni Narawa (Chiefs) - uncapped
34. Mark Telea (Blues)
35. Shaun Stevenson (Chiefs) - uncapped
36. Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes)
Formation of the other positions, leaves room for six outside backs, that will be trimmed down to five for the Rugby World Cup. Kini Naholo could be a possible bolter and Leicester Fainga'anuku has scored 11 tries this season, but Foster will almost certainly remain loyal to Caleb Clarke, who is contracted through to 2024. Naholo didn't become a regular in Super Rugby until this year, while Faing'anuku has almost certainly shot his chances in the foot by signing with Toulon.
As Mark Telea (97 defenders beaten) and Emoni Narawa (49 defenders beaten) have also both been in electric form in 2023, Foster may look for just one out-and-out power winger, as Narawa and Telea can both collect the high ball safely, provide assistance off the boot and look for work around the field. Narawa also has the ability to drop back to fullback, so essentially joins the squad as a like-for-like replacement of Will Jordan if selected.
Shaun Stevenson, the Chiefs' fullback, may face a quick axing if selected, as there are four other players in this predicted squad who can play the position. Photo: Max Sharp.
Jordan's return from injury has been successful, aside from a 70% tackle rate for the season, meaning he will likely remain the first-choice for the 14 jersey. With Jordan yet to play a minute of test rugby at 15, Shaun Stevenson's inevitable selection is likely to become a backline equivalent of Pita Gus Sowakula's shock axing in 2022.
Jordie Barrett, the player with the most minutes of any player under Foster, will play minutes at 12 here and there to give his brother, as well as Damian McKenzie, chances at 15, but will move back to fullback himself for the big games, as clearly established with hefty evidence in favour of him remaining at 15.