The All Blacks have announced their squad for the Rugby Championship, while the Wallabies picked an extended squad to be trimmed this week.
With the first Bledisloe Test less than three weeks away, we break down some of the key battles within and between each squads, starting with the halves.
The former Reds halfback has returned to Australia for the Rugby Championship, though he hasn’t played a minute of rugby since January. The 28-year-old is working his way back into training and has been consulting with newly-appointed national skills coach Mick Byrne since April about improving the details in his game. Effectively the incumbent, with injury and a move to Stade Francais preventing a Test return before now, he’d likely have the inside run at a starting berth.
Phipps had a chance to cement the number nine spot during the June Tests and showed his typical endurance and work rate through that England series. Was heavily targeted by the English, which seemed to rattle him. His pass has never been as accurate as genia’s and their combination at the World Cup worked wonders, with Phipps injecting crucial energy late in games.
While he’s still a way off being a Wallabies regular, Frisby has grown this season with experience in the Test environment. The 23-year-old will be back with familiar face Genia this time around, though it’s hard to see him getting a look into the matchday 23.
The Highlanders nine will be tough to knock off as the incumbent All Blacks scrumhalf after another strong Super Rugby year. His passing has always been lauded but the new Zealand halfback’s kicking game has been just as important at both club and Test level.
Kerr-Barlow was the backup nine for New Zealand in the June Test series but has probably been overtaken by Hurricanes’ TJ Perenara since. It’s going to be a tight contest but the Chiefs scrumhalf might be losing ground.
The Hurricanes scrumhalf has been in scintillating form in Super Rugby this season and if they win the title this Saturday, he will have played a major part in that championship. The 24-year-old was edged out by Kerr-barlow in the recent June Tests but has stepped up in the final month of the club season and had the better of his opponent in last weekend’s semi-final.
Foley has taken on extra responsibility this season for the Waratahs and at Wallabies level, with little competition for the 10 spot. That will all change this week with Quade Cooper back. Foley’s kicking game, in play and in front of goals, has been inconsistent this season but the addition of Byrne to the Wallabies fold could be a major boost for the incumbent playmaker.
Provides the X-Factor but not necessarily the consistency of Foley. Cooper is back from Toulon and on the verge of a Super Rugby return, though his destination is yet to be confirmed. Will probably gain confidence from being back in the national fold after a mixed season in France.
Beauden Barrett is the form flyhalf in the Super Rugby competition (sorry Elton Jantjies). He has come of age this season and a title win on Saturday night would surely seal his All Blacks starting spot. Showed his versatility against Wales, playing at flyhalf and fullback in the third Test in a complete performance.
It takes a lot to knock off an incumbent All Black starter but if there is anyone who looks at most risk it’s Cruden. Has made few mistakes this season, helping the Chiefs to another Super Rugby semifinal, which could be enough for him to keep his position at the top of the pecking order. Expect this to be one of the most difficult decisions for New Zealand.
The Highlanders 10 has been pivotal for his team this season but you'd think it would be a battle between Cruden and Barrett for the All Blacks starting spot in the Rugby Championship. His presence, though, just reminds everyone of the depth the All Blacks enjoy in so many positions.