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Credibility, retention key for New Zealand Rugby's All Blacks XV

The initial reaction to the All Blacks XV concept has been mixed Phil Walter/Getty Images

Reviving their second-tier national team appears a savvy move from New Zealand Rugby.

The initial reaction to the All Blacks XV concept has been mixed, though.

Criticism of the team cheapening the All Blacks name is justified. In my eyes, there will only ever be one All Blacks team.

Truth is that ship long sailed. New Zealand's sevens sides and the Maori side also fly under the All Blacks banner.

In the modern world, branding is everything. New Zealand Rugby must be comfortable copping the odd hit or two when one of their "All Blacks" teams lose, and the context of exactly who that is doesn't make global headlines.

In announcing the effective revival of the Junior All Blacks, who last played in 2009, NZ Rugby made no secret of the fact this was, in part, a commercial exercise.

The All Blacks XV's first of three matches this year will be against Fiji in Vancouver in October. In time, it would not surprise to see them play in, say, Germany, the home of Adidas, to tick a few revenue boxes.

In the Southern Hemisphere's extremely fraught financial climate that's understandable.

Outside that caveat, it's difficult to find anything other than upside for the New Zealand game.

It's worth remembering the last All Blacks northern tour in 2018 featured a bloated 51-man squad which sparked accusations the Test against Japan en route to Europe cheapened the jersey by handing out Test caps willy-nilly.

There's no pleasing everyone; no simple solution to development.

In terms of credibility, much will depend on the calibre of the All Blacks XV's coaching team.

Newly-appointed All Blacks head coach Ian Foster was the last mentor to lead the Junior All Blacks.

On that basis, let alone the three successive titles he's delivered the Crusaders, Scott Robertson must be coaxed into leading the All Blacks XV.

Why not get him to bring Crusaders forwards coach Jason Ryan, Hurricanes head coach Jason Holland and Blues counterpart Leon MacDonald with him? That's the crew Robertson put together in his bid to replace Steve Hansen, after all.

If New Zealand Rugby is serious about the All Blacks XV being a serious feeder team, they must assemble quality management.

For players and coaches, the All Blacks XV must be a proper stepping stone, not merely a vehicle for chasing additional revenue. New Zealand's rugby public can read lip service a mile off.

When Chris Boyd left the Hurricanes to join Northampton Saints in 2018, he bemoaned the lack of coaching opportunities beyond Super Rugby.

Compared to Saints, the All Blacks XV won't register on the band bank balance radar but it is at least another pathway.

Get the coaching part of this team right, and the rest will fall into place.

With fluctuations in injury and form yet to play out across the full Super Rugby season predicting the exact composition of Foster's maiden All Blacks team remains vexed.

At the start of this new four-year cycle, how bold will Foster be in introducing new talent? And what influence will his new assistants, John Plumtree in particular, have on changing personnel?

Foster and his new coaching team, which also includes Greg Feek and Brad Mooar, will cherry pick at least 31 players - likely more - for expected northern Tests against Japan, England, Wales and Scotland.

Crystal ball gazing for the All Blacks XV, and working on the basis this team takes precedence over New Zealand Maori selection as a direct feeder to the first-choice side, it could then potentially include:

1. Karl Tu'inukuafe, 2. Liam Coltman, 3. Tyrel Lomax, 4. Tom Robinson, 5. Isaia Walker-Leawere, 6. Dalton Papalii, 7. Du'Plessis Kirifi, 8. Akira Ioane, 9. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 10. Josh Ioane, 11. Mark Telea, 12. TJ Faiane, 13. Vince Aso, 14. Solomon Alaimalo, 15. David Havili (c)

This year the All Blacks face the near impossible task of squeezing all their back three talent into one squad, which could leave one of Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece, George Bridge, Jordie Barrett and Damian McKenzie featuring in this second XV at some stage.

That's some depth before Havili, Alaimalo and Will Jordan get a mention.

It's a similar story in the battle for the blindside flanker role where Shannon Frizell, Vaea Fifita and Papalii have all been capped.

Cullen Grace's work-rate has impressed in his rookie Super Rugby season with the Crusaders while Chiefs blindside Luke Jacobson continues to work his way back from concussion after leaving the World Cup without playing a match.

Last year, in tandem with Sam Cane, the All Blacks employed Ardie Savea on the side of the scrum but he could shift to No. 8 after Kieran Read's departure to Japan.

Lachlan Boshier, who leads Super Rugby with 16 turnovers this season, must be leading the charge to bolt into the All Blacks loose forward mix but they will want genuine size there, too.

Other players in the mix for the All Blacks XV could include the likes of Stephen Perofeta. The Taranaki first-five has impressed from fullback for the Blues, regularly coming into the line and offering a second playmaker option.

Lock is undoubtedly the weakest position in the New Zealand game.

For the purposes of this piece I moved Robinson, more a traditional loose forward, to lock where he has also played well for the Blues.

But with a longer-term development view, the All Blacks XV may groom genuine second-rowers such as Highlanders lock Pari Pari Parkinson and Crusaders prospect Quinten Strange, both of whom have barely featured this season due to injuries.

The final point to note is the All Blacks XV will not capture player eligibility this year.

Beyond that, and subject to agreement with Players' Association, this second-tier team is likely to go down that path as a retention tool.

Such a move makes sense. Why should New Zealand invest resource into players such as James Lowe, Bundee Aki, Gareth Anscombe, Brad Shields and Blade Thomson only to watch them go on to represent other nations?

This complicated eligibility situation will, however, eventually force players, depending on their contract and career status, to seriously consider whether to commit their futures to the All Blacks at an earlier stage.