If you wanted proof that the 2015 Rugby World Cup has already started, you can’t go past the All Blacks team selected for the match against Scotland (Sunday, 6.30am in New Zealand).
Players out of position (McCaw starting at 6, Slade on the wing), new players (James Parsons debuting at hooker, Bird and Thrush in the locks) and players returning (Carter and Vito): it all adds up to building squad depth for next October.
All the other teams are focused on honing their top team. Shag is looking forward to the inevitable injuries or form drops that will be giving us all the yips in 11 months. That’s a luxury that few other teams can afford, but it’s a luxury that’s been hard earned.
Making such radical changes across the park also has the effect of making this a much more intense test match.
The Scots will be going out to get their first ever win against the ABs, and good luck to them if they’re going to do it by scoring tries. Under their new New Zealand coach Vern Cotter, they have showed an ambition and desire that has been lacking up north for far too long.
The benefit for the ABs is that they’re going to have to play at top speed rather than on cruise control. And that’s the sort of pressure you want the young fellas to have experienced if they’re needed in the final stages of the Big One.
Game on. Should be a beauty.