Despite an injury-riddled couple of seasons, Joe Moody’s form in 2023 was inspiring conversations around the All Blacks No 1 jersey. A few sidelined months later though, he’s been left out of the squad altogether.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster and forwards coach Jason Ryan made no changes to their front row selections from the Rugby Championship when selecting their Rugby World Cup squad, making for a relatively inexperienced group of props.
Ethan de Groot and Tyrel Lomax are expected to continue as starters for the tournament, with 16 and 26 caps respectively. Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu’ungafasi are the veterans of the group with 49 and 53 caps to their name and Crusaders duo Fletcher Newell and Tamaiti Williams are youngsters with just nine caps between them.
The experience of 57-test Moody, an All Black since 2014, might have been considered a necessity by some given the emphasis placed on experience for World Cup campaigns.
But for the selectors, Moody’s lack of game time was too big of a hurdle to overcome in time for the showpiece tournament.
“With the compilation of his time off and our programme, and having to go into the first part of the World Cup fully loaded, we just wanted him to go get some game-time in the meantime. We’ve got a lot of faith in him, he’s a special player… and hopefully, there’s going to be an opportunity later for him,” Foster said of the omission.
That game time comes from Moody’s NPC duties with Canterbury, where he made his return from injury over the weekend in a win over Manawatu.
The prop spoke to the media on Tuesday where he revealed how his selection conversation with Foster played out.
“It was a somewhat, not a heated conversation, but I did sort of… I didn’t try to change Fozzie’s mind or anything, but I did kind of argue my case when they said I wasn’t going to be ready for the opening rounds of the World Cup,” Moody said.
“I thought the two weeks of NPC, the game in London, I would have been in a pretty good state. But, apparently, that wasn’t the way they saw it.”
The 40 minutes of NPC action Moody saw over the weekend came after the All Blacks left for Europe on Friday, and were the prop’s first minutes since rupturing a tendon in his ankle back in May.
Knowing what he has achieved and what he can contribute at the international level, the 33-year-old says he was gearing up for a return to the world’s biggest rugby arena. Now, he’s reframing his thinking to contribute to Canterbury.
“The first couple of days was pretty tough. That’s an understatement, really.
“I’d set goals for myself for what I wanted to achieve this year, and basically being told I can’t achieve those goals any more. So getting used to that those first couple of days was tough to wrap my head around.
“There is no way that I can turn up here trying to be some kind of sourpuss or anything each day when you come in. I’m with the Canterbury side now, and it’s all go ahead.”
It’s not the first time Moody has missed selection for a World Cup, being left out of 2015’s squad. He was called into the team for the second half of that tournament and may well be the next man up if injury strikes again this time around.
The veteran finds no comfort in the familiarity of his position though, with the experience of starting in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, his expectations are a lot higher than the cards he has been dealt.
“I feel like the only similarity from 2015 to here is the fact I didn’t get selected. When I look at 2015, to be honest, I didn’t deserve to be named in that initial squad. I think [Wyatt] Crockett and Tony Woodcock were playing much better footy than me.
“This time around, the timing of the injury has really shot me in the foot, so to speak. The whole situation is quite different, but at the same time, it could end up being a similar result. We will see what happens.”