Jordie Barrett and Damian McKenzie are worthy contenders for the All Blacks, but you get the feeling that one could miss the call for selection ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour.
McKenzie has a tiny bit of All Blacks experience after getting some time on last year’s Northern tour. Barrett, fresh off his recent Super Rugby debut, is widely being signalled as “the next big thing” by many in the media.
Ben Smith is the first-choice fullback for head coach Steve Hansen, but with Smiths’ ability to play on the wing as well, could that open the door for a specialist fullback?
The only problem is – neither Barrett or McKenzie are specialist fullbacks, they just tend to play in that position more often than not.
There is only so much space in the All Blacks for this upcoming series, and either of these two men could find themselves as a shock exclusion. Barrett is the popular vote to bolt into the squad, but McKenzie has the advantage in terms of experience and a proven track record of good form.
In 2017, McKenzie has the advantage in most key areas you’d look for. Both men currently sit on four tries a piece, but McKenzie is well ahead in defenders beaten (43-19) and on tackling success rate.
McKenzie has been one of the most dangerous ball handlers in New Zealand rugby for some time now, and his ability to break open the game from anywhere on the park is mighty impressive. Also, McKenzie’s bravery (given his tiny size) is another string he can add to his bow.
From the kicking tee; there is little separation between McKenzie and Barrett which makes each argument that little bit more difficult for the All Black selectors.
Assistant All Black coach Ian Foster has hinted at Barrett being a favourable selection and with the 20-year old missing out on selection for the New Zealand U-20 side this week, where else could Barrett end up except for the All Blacks? It’s not rocket science, the decision could well have already been made.
It isn’t outside the realms of possibility that Barrett and McKenzie could both be in the squad. But, with Smith as your first choice, and Israel Dagg able to play in the same position, selecting both youngsters uses up another spot that could be used elsewhere.
If logic prevails, Hansen will select just one of the two. Just who it is, and who is more deserving, makes for a very interesting argument.
Author: Michael Pulman