Sitting here in the office waiting with baited breath the official announcement of the All Blacks side to play South Africa on Saturday night. So much anticipation/expectation around this 1st XV in what's quite probably the most important pool match our team will play in 32 years of RWC history.
Comparing this side with those that played most recently against the Saffirs in Wellington and Ozzies in Auckland, most pundits would've correctly picked most players, the biggest bones of contention being the midfield combo, confirmation of the outside backs and final make-up of the eight-man bench.
So let's start with the pack. No great surprise that the front eight are the same named to start last month vs the Wallabies at Eden Park, the only change coming at lock where the returning Scott Barrett replaces Patrick Tuipulotu who in turn takes Hemopo's spot on the bench. The loose forwards remain unchanged our strongest trio of Savea, Cane & Read.
The dual 1st-5 experiment is now a fully blown first team fixture with Richie Mo'unga starting at 10, Beauden at fullback and Ben Smith in the impact role covering both wing and fullback.
The twin Crusaders wings Reece and Bridge continue to be rewarded for recent stand-out efforts vs Ozzie & Tonga, retaining the 14 and 11 positions respectively.
And as for the midfield, Ryan Crotty partners Anton Lienart-Brown just like they also did most recently against Tonga. Sonny Bill Williams has recovered enough from his tight calf to take one of three backline spots on the bench. The big winner in this selection obviously Shannon Frizzell who wasn't wanted for the original 31-man squad, added late following the withdrawal of Luke Jacobson and now part of the 23 for this oh-so-important opener.
Long range forecast suggests a little light precipitation in Yokohama Friday night, final question being is this our strongest XV?
The answer being "almost". A fit Brodie Retallick would be an automatic starter at lock, while Jack Goodhue on recent selections could also reasonably expect to be back at centre when available. Other than that, this is it. The team now named, the 1st XV's been picked.