#13 18 + 13 = 31
Each team at Rugby World Cup 2019 is allowed a squad of 31 players.
I am going out on a limb and saying the All Blacks will have a squad split of 18 forwards and 13 backs.
So bite me.
Why this matters
This is a fairly big call this far out, given that the All Blacks had a 17 forwards/14 backs split in 2015. And there’s two particular people why I think you’ll see a difference this year. More below.
A lot of people get bent out of shape early on about the squad selection because they make a list of their best/favourite players, and try to create a squad around that list.
But I reckon you (by which I mean Shag) need to start off by considering several things from a high level:
- first off, you have a squad of 31, but the match day team is 23. Think about what shape that will be. (Hint, it’s the run-on 15 plus five forwards plus three backs. Repeat four times through the pool stage.)
- second, the 23 in the knockout stage is your focus. The extra 8 players are there to keep the likely boys fresh and uninjured through the pools, but also to be ready to step in seamlessly in the knockouts.
- third, there are two specialist positions where you need to have three players in your squad, because you absolutely have to have two in your game day squad (one running on, and one on the bench, and you don’t want to have to play anyone who is carrying a niggle): hooker and halfback.
- fourth, each game day squad also has to have two spare props on the bench. (It’s an arcane piece of the tournament rules, which we’ll talk about a lot later.) That means you have to have four props for each and every game. So now you’ve got your first really big choice in squad balance: am I taking 5 or 6 props in the 31? And if I only take 5, I might have to play four of them in every single match (if one of them gets a niggle.) In 2015 the All Blacks took only 5 props, and two of them were injured during the tournament so we had to bring in two replacements. (And the replacements rules are really arcane.) So if you can manage it and all other things being equal, I reckon you really really really want six props in your squad, because the big fullas are very finely tuned pieces of heavy lifting equipment that can pop a hydraulic all too easily.
- fifth, if I’m taking an extra forward, that means I’m a back down. Where does that come from? This is my first particular person: Damian McKenzie. In 2015, we took three first-fives (Carter, Slade and Barrett), but this year I think we can go with just two (Barrett and Mo’unga), because McKenzie provides the essential cover.
- sixth, and I may be getting a little speculative here, this brings in my second particular person: Jordie Barrett. He’s been searching for a place to call his own in the All Backs back line, and he hasn’t found it. But given that he can reliably cover (that is, throughout the pool matches, and stepping up in the knockouts if needed) the fullback, wing and centre positions, he becomes a very valuable force balancer in a squad of 31.
So you get your 14 backs by losing a specialist first-five, covering it with McKenzie, and having J. Barrett to give you balance across the back as required.
Jeez, this selection stuff is easy.
As noted above, there were two replacement props needed by the All Blacks in 2015.
First, the great Tony Woodcock (try scorer in the 2011 final) was injured during the pool match against Tonga on 9 October 2015. Joe Moody was called in as replacement the next day, and went on to play in the quarter-final, semi-final and final.
Second, the also pretty handy Wyatt Crockett was injured during the quarter-final against France on 17 October. He was replaced by Pauliasi Manu, an uncapped Auckland and Blues prop, who did not play in any match (but did get a winner’s medal). Manu has never played for the All Blacks, and has now joined the Hino Red Dolphins in Japan.