Topic: Rugby

New All Blacks set to raise the bar

The All Blacks leadership group says the pressure of national selection is not only reserved for the new selections.

Both new and old came together for the first time in Auckland today after the squad was named yesterday.

All eyes are on two pivotal positions where the battle for a black jersey couldn't be fiercer.

The All Blacks are raising the bar this year.  A gruelling weights session starts off the season.

All Black flanker Sam Cane says, “Guys have pushed a few weights by the time they get to this stage, they've done it numerous times so they shouldn't be too nervous about that. I think a couple were nervous about turning up on time, I think everyone was about 20 minutes early today.”

The All Blacks leadership group has signalled that there is still a lot of work ahead, and not just for the debutantes.

Aaron Cruden (Ngāti Raukawa) says “Whether my role is on the bench or in the starting 15, or not even in the match day 23, I just want to make sure that I contribute to the team ultimately getting a result.”

Israel Dagg (Ngāti Kahungunu) is expected to make his 50th All Blacks test appearance after earning a recall to the side.

However, it's the two Māori flankers, Elliot Dixon (Ngāpuhi) and Liam Squire (Ngāi Tahu), who have everyone talking.

Cane says, “It's no denying they're pretty exciting loose forwards, they're extremely athletic, big work rates so it'll be interesting and exciting to see how they go in this environment.”

However, Cane's Chiefs co-captain, Aaron Cruden, has his own battles in the black jersey ahead of him.

Sopoaga and Cruden's rivalry has been compared to that between Carlos Spencer and Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori ambassador Andrew Mehrtens in the 90s.

Cruden says, “I was a Spencer guy, he’s from the Horowhenua. Not too far where I'm from, but I suppose he was a little bit flamboyant at times, but I just like the fact that he liked to express himself.”

With Warren Gatland's Wales side going down to England 26-13 overnight, these All Blacks both new and old will be looking to do exactly that.