These articles will address each team’s biggest question leading up to the World Cup. Not their biggest problem, their biggest QUESTION, so keep that in mind before slagging me in the comments.
We start with the World Champions, and their question really is a big one, and one that recently became a bit more confusing. The All Blacks need to figure out who will be their starting flyhalf come the World Cup, a question that is more confusing than it seems, especially with recent injuries to the likes of Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden.
Beauden Barrett would seem to be the incumbent after an impressive Autumn Series, and a very good Super Rugby campaign thus far. Barrett is a silky smooth flyhalf, but he is still very young, and has yet to play with the kind of pressure on his shoulders that a world cup will surely bring about. That said, he has the Hurricanes rolling towards the playoffs this season, which could boost his already impressive credentials. If there is one thing that Barrett has proved in his still young career, it is that he is an electric playmaker who can give plenty of teams fits in defense.
With Aaron Cruden unlikely to be an option due to his ACL injury, Colin Slade is likely to get another shot at 10 for the All Blacks. Aside from being boshed nearly every time he plays, Slade is another electric player who will also offer versatility, playing at fullback, inside center, and flyhalf for the Crusaders over the years. With an eye for a gap, good hands, and accurate kicks from hand, Slade could create plenty chances for the All Blacks, if he is given a chance. His good work playing for the Barbarians shows just how dangerous he can be, and he must be in Steve Hanson’s mind.
I would probably be shot if I forgot to include this Dan Carter bloke. Apparently he’s pretty good or something, so I figured I’d throw him in as well. Joking aside, Carter cannot be far away from the mind of any All Blacks fan. Arguably the greatest flyhalf of all time, Carter has taken the All Blacks to victory time and time again, and is incredibly well rounded. A sublime kicker, dangerous with ball in hand, and better distribution than Bob Geldof, Carter is always going to be an option. Unless he’s hurt. Which he is a lot.
Thrown in simply to complicate matters is the good form of two of the younger flyhalves in New Zealand at the moment. Lima Sopoaga and Ihaia West are relatively untested at the moment, however they both have been in scintillating form of late, and could, given some luck, be in with a shout of making the squad. West is in incredible kicking form, with his percentage among the best in Super Rugby, while Sopoaga is controlling the Highlanders backs like a conductor. Both offer plenty with ball in hand, and are almost certainly All Blacks stars of the future. As you can see from the video below, Sopoaga isnt bad from the boot either, and West is a big part of the reason why the Blues are among the best in Super Rugby at scoring off set-pieces.
The All Blacks are the number 1 ranked team in the world, but this is something they need to sort out. A flyhalf must have a good combination with his scrumhalf and his outside backs to succeed, although the All Blacks did show otherwise last time around (paging Stephen Donald). With a powerful forward pack, and an explosive group of outside backs, there is every reason to believe that they can win the World Cup, but before they can do that, they need to find their best option at 10, and allow him to settle into the role, or else they may struggle.