The way things are shaping up, it‘s possible that at some stage this year, nearly half the players on the field for the All Blacks will come from just three families.
This is going to be the year of brothers for the All Blacks with the Barretts, Ioanes and Saveas all likely to feature prominently for the national side.
The odds, based on early season form, of Scott, Jordie and Beauden Barrett, Akira and Rieko Ioane and Ardie and Julian Savea making the All Blacks squad to play France in June have shortened considerably.
And it‘s not beyond any realm of the imagination to believe that all of them could feature in the same All Blacks match day squad this year. Imagine this: Scott Barrett at lock, Ardie Savea at openside, Akira Ioane at No 8, Beauden Barrett at first-five, Jordie Barrett at fullback and Rieko Ioane and Julian Savea on the wings.
It‘s a stretch to see that being a starting line up in any of the major fixtures – France, Australia, South Africa, England and Ireland – this year, but it could be used against Argentina, Japan or Italy.
Or it could be how things end up in the final stages of some games, with players injected off the bench.
Barrett brothers Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett and Scott Barrett. Photo / Getty Images facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
It would be an unprecedented situation – seven players coming from just three families. Last year, in the third test against the Lions, there were six players from the three families in the match day squad and five on the field at the same time: Beauden and Jordie Barrett started, as did Rieko Ioane and Julian Savea.
Scott Barrett and Ardie Savea both came off the bench but Julian had been replaced before Barrett came on.
This year seven seems possible. Beauden Barrett and Rieko Ioane are quite obviously going to play a major role for the All Blacks this year.
They are locked-in starters. Scott Barrett has been a squad regular since the end of 2016 and is expected to be so again, as is Ardie Savea, who despite losing ground to Matt Todd last year, remains a player with a phenomenal range of skills.
Jordie Barrett played against the Lions last year and would have played a lot more but for suffering a major shoulder. The 21-year-old is such a talent that he‘s likely to become the All Blacks‘ starting fullback this year, with the All Blacks opting to use Ben Smith on the wing.
The wild cards, then, are Akira Ioane and Julian Savea, who are, arguably, the two most destructive and explosive ball carriers in the country and equipped with the potential to be global superstars at next year‘s World Cup.
Julian Savea and Ardie Savea celebrate following a Bledisloe Cup match. Photo / Getty Images facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
Savea, of course, has proven himself already. He‘s climbed to the top of the world game, only to fall last year when his form deteriorated and his confidence collapsed.
His mission this year is to rebuild his reputation – to produce the same sort of devastating running that led to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen in 2014 saying that Savea was a better rugby player than the great Jonah Lomu.
The odds are stacked against him, but Savea, in his three appearances for the Hurricanes this year, has been more dynamic and involved than he was at any point last year.
He‘s leaner, working harder off the ball and if nothing else, making it clear that he still wants to be an All Black.
The competition for places in the All Blacks‘ back three is intense, but Savea has 54 test caps and if he can deliver an impressive Super Rugby campaign, he‘ll be hard to leave out. The rest of the nation has doubted his ability to bounce back, but not the selectors.
And then there is Akira Ioane – the only one of the group not to have been capped. But that is on track to change.
Rieko Ioane and Akira Ioane look on during an All Blacks Captain‘s Run at Westpac Stadium. Photo / Getty Images facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
Ioane was called up by the All Blacks last year when injury forced Jerome Kaino out of the end of season tour. Promotion came after Ioane delivered a strong finish in Super Rugby with the Blues.
He‘s taken his game to another level again this year and is pushing himself towards being the second-ranked No 8 behind Kieran Read.
Certainly Ioane has become a player the All Blacks would most likely be ready to cap, to see if his explosive game can be effective in the test arena. And the All Blacks, while they always have the option of shifting either Liam Squire, Savea or Sam Cane to No 8 to cover for any injury to Read, would like a second specialist in the role.
If Ioane is selected, the magnificent seven becomes possible. Three sets of brothers in one team would make All Blacks‘ history but no doubt, too, would be a unique scenario for any major international side, in any sport in any part of the world.
And there is even an outside chance of the picture being more unbelievable – with four families constituting nine of the team.
It‘s a big if, but if injuries strike, Luke Whitelock, who played the last test of 2017 at No 8, could find himself in a loose trio alongside Ioane and Savea with his brother Sam in the second row alongside Scott Barrett.