Havili, who hasn’t represented his country since starting at fullback against a French XV in Lyon in mid-November 2017, has emerged as a leading contender to glue the All Blacks’ midfield together for the three tests against Tonga and Fiji next month.
When All Blacks coach Ian Foster names up to 36 players in his first squad of the year on Monday night he will explain how he intends to fill gaping holes in the middle of his backline.
The 2020 partnership of Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown won’t feature for the All Blacks this year; Goodhue is out for the season after rupturing his ACL, and Lienert-Brown is recovering from an operation on his elbow. He may not be available for selection until the third domestic test against Fiji in Hamilton on July 17.
Havili, who has featured at fullback for much of his career, slotted into second five-eighth for the Crusaders in Super Rugby this season to allow coach Scott Robertson to start Will Jordan in the No 15 jersey.
It’s understood Havili wasn’t totally sold on the idea, but Robertson believed it would help him rejuvenate his international career.
Havili, Crusaders team-mate Braydon Ennor and the Blues’ Rieko Ioane are the leading options to fill the midfield spots. The hard-running Leicester Fainga’anuku, who appeared at centre and wing for the Crusaders, could also be an option if the selectors want a different option after the Hurricanes’ Peter Umaga-Jensen made one test appearance last year.
To convince the NZ Rugby board to extend his contract through to the 2023 World Cup, Foster will, in all likelihood, need to retain the Bledisloe Cup; although the All Blacks won the Tri Nations last year, that was tempered by a first-ever loss to Argentina and they never played the world champion Springboks.
The midfield job is one of the most important in terms of organising defences, and Foster will hope the in-form Lienert-Brown makes a swift recovery.
With halfback TJ Perenara unavailable for the July tests following his recent return from Japan, and Blues wing Caleb Clarke aiming to play sevens at the Tokyo Olympics, there is scope to blood several newcomers or stick with those who have served their Super Rugby clubs well in recent years.
Fainga’anuku could also cover wing, and fellow Crusaders No 9 Mitchell Drummond, who made an appearance against Japan in 2018, is probably competing against the Blues Finlay Christie for the vacant halfback spot.
Prop is also an area where injuries will force changes; loosehead Joe Moody will be out until around September following foot surgery, and tighthead Ofa Tuungafasi recently had a knee operation and will miss the domestic tests.
Lock Sam Whitelock, who will be reunited with Brodie Retallick following the latter’s two-season stint in Japan, should be named captain in the absence of the injured Sam Cane.
Blindside flanker Shannon Frizell is also recovering from the foot injury that ruled him out of the latter stages of the Highlanders’ campaign. Luke Jacobson and Ethan Blackadder, the former who was overlooked last year after making his test debut in 2019, have been in good form for the Chiefs and Crusaders respectively and could add some fire to the back row.
Possible All Blacks squad:
Hookers: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Asafo Aumua.
Props: Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax, Angus Ta’avao, George Bower, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Alex Hodgman.
Locks: Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa’i.
Loose forwards: Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii, Ethan Blackadder, Luke Jacobson, Akira Ioane, Shannon Frizell.
Halfbacks: Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Finlay Christie.
First five-eighths: Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett.
Midfielders: Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Anton Lienert-Brown.
Outside backs: Jordie Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, George Bridge, Leicester Fainga’anuku.