We're two games into the All Blacks' World Cup campaign, which is halfway through the pool stage and a perfect time to lead our Monday Crumbs with a little All Blacks chat. With the last two pool games against Georgia and Tonga, I would suggest that nothing will really change and that the All Blacks can now coast into the quarter-finals but there's a few cheeky battles going on that will keep things funky.
The first thought that springs to mind is how much we should read into the performance against Namibia and how the All Blacks go against Georgia and Tonga. We can all safely say that we'll win the two remaining games so besides the battles for positions in the top 23-man squad, there isn't a whole lot we can really take away from the remaining two games. I say this because I sensed a bit of a disappointed vibe after the win over Namibia - the All Blacks didn't score 100 points nor did they blow Namibia off the park. With that, I think we shouldn't really pay too much attention to how many points the All Blacks or how great they are in attack because there's only one goal and that is to win.
It's so much easier to say that when we can all provide our own analysis in the competition for places in our strongest side. As the deepest squad at this World Cup, the All Blacks have the highest amount and quality of competition so we might as well enjoy it. Many people questioned Shag's faith in the older squad members, the guys who had earned Shag's faith after years of solid performances but now the pressure is really on and it will be interesting to see how Shag juggles a few of these selections.
I've got no reason to think that Shag won't continue to show faith in Jerome Kaino and Conrad Smith but there's pressure on them both to perform. Victor Vito was impressive against Namibia while Sam Cane hasn't missed a beat so far, so with Richie McCaw and Kieran Read both certainties for the knockout action that makes Kaino the man in danger. I'd lean towards Shag persisting with the Kaino, McCaw and Read loose trio, but wouldn't be too upset to see McCaw, Cane and Read take the field.
Conrad Smith's value largely goes unseen and his combination with Ma'a Nonu ensures that they are the best midfield pair in the world. However, Malakai Fekitoa took his opportunity with open arms and is at Smith's heels demanding quality performances. It would take something mental for Shag to drop Smith, but as long as Fekitoa is putting Smith under pressure to perform we'll continue to have the strongest midfield at the World Cup.
Sonny Bill Williams looks destined to hold down a bench position, which means that Fekitoa will likely only feature in knockout games if he's starting - or he demands selection on the bench over an outside back or a forward. That means that if Fekitoa wants to be playing in the big games, he'll need to extremely good in the opportunities that he's given - get ready for some Fekitoa magic.
There's also a cheeky situation in the front-row where Charlie Faumuina has shown why he was selected despite coming back from injury. Faumuina was part of the match-winning effort from the bench against Argentina and then backed it up as a starter against Namibia, which puts pressure on Tony Woodcock. Faumuina offers so much around the field that a front-row with Faumuina and Dane Coles would be incredibly hard to stop with Faumuina owner of a nice pair of hands and Coles part of our 'best midfield in the world' group.
Who knows what Shag is thinking here, but Wyatt Crockett is also in good form and we now have the situation where Faumuina and Crockett are keeping Woodcock and Owen Franks on their toes. How great's that?
All the other positions are pretty much locked in, all but the two starting wing spots. We'll get to see Waisake Naholo back in the black jersey against Georgia, but is Naholo better than Nehe Milner-Skudder? Let's not forget that Milner-Skudder has beaten 12 defenders in two games as well as making six line-breaks and has arguably been our best player so far.
I went a bit cold on Julian Savea, but he's all good and should start on one side so Naholo now has to be better than Milner-Skudder has been. Naholo will know that he gave a sucker an even break and must now demand selection with some impressive performances against Georgia and Tonga, which is why he was selected despite not being fully fit so I'm eagerly anticipating what he dishes up.
Just on Naholo's Fijian special - have a read of this, sounds like it works a treat...
Two games against rugby minnows might seem like a bit of a bummer as the rest of the Rugby World Cup is in a hectic cycle, but there's plenty of little things to enjoy from the All Blacks last two pool games. I don't think these two games will be pretty and I don't think that we'll see a perfect/polished performance, but that's all good with me as long as the All Blacks win. I'll be watching to see how Naholo performs, who impresses off the bench and which props say 'I'm the bestest' because after pool play we, as viewers won't be able to sit back and enjoy watching these mini-battles.
You will see headlines about Jonathan Thurston and the North Queensland Cowboys 'snubbing' tonight's Dally M awards in Sydney, but there's no need to overreact. In fact, I love this decision from the Cowboys to not send Thurston or any other representative down to Sydney from Townsville. Thurston is battling a groin and calf injury so it would be pretty dumb to put him on a plane for a couple hours in Sydney, but this a Cowboys team who are in a position of power after years of fighting for respect in the Sydney-dominated NRL.
The Cowboys are generally always given a raw deal with the scheduling of regular season games and are in the same boat as the Warriors in terms of their air-miles each week. The decision from the Cowboys to not send anyone down to Sydney is a bit of a shot at the NRL and good on the Cowboys for standing firm. Thurston sparked a few dramas earlier this month when he said he would snub the Dally M awards is the players association wasn't listened to, but with the Cowboys in a Grand Final and Thurston battling injury, this only makes sense.
Oh, Uriah Hall you bad, bad man...