Since the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the number 7 jersey has been one of the most greatly contested jerseys in the modern All Black era.
Following the departure of McCaw, there have been great hopes for a revolutionary openside to climb the rungs of the All Blacks hierarchy. But who could possibly do this before the 2019 Rugby World Cup?
On Saturday, the dynamic Ardie Savea was given the nod by Steve Hansen and claimed himself a starting position in the number 7 jersey. In a classic switch-a-roo, Sam Cane found himself on the bench looking to make an impact later in the game. Hansen’s logic behind this manoeuvre was more likely a resting issue rather than a strategic game plan.
However, it certainly seemed that the prospect of starting may have daunted Savea. He seemed oddly quiet throughout the game with fewer high-paced destructive runs than we would normally expect. His usual explosive and ruthless nature in contact was well contained. Add to this the fact he struggled to find space amidst the tight Argentine defence and it was no surprise he was subbed. Savea saw his night end after 43-minutes, with a fairly standard number of ball carries, tackles made and metres gained.
On the flip side, Cane made his presence felt almost immediately. He contributed with his traditionally robust style of play, disrupting the Puma’s defence and shutting down free play. However, there was very little ball-in-hand for the big loose forward. Considering his apprenticeship under McCaw in 2015, aspects of strategy, technique and stamina have become transparent each time Cane takes the field, however, it seems Cane lacks the aggressive attacking play Savea often contributes to his side.
Depth at Number 7
If we look at the depth of the New Zealand openside flanker pool it makes for impressive reading. Immediately the likes of Matt Todd, Dillon Hunt and Blake Gibson come to mind. And with each offering a unique talent and skill set it makes for an interesting discussion. A discussion of who will be boarding the plane to Japan.
Todd offers a consistency that is difficult to muster at international level. However, at 29 years of age, Todd is quickly becoming susceptible to replacement by younger, fresh prospects gearing towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Especially if the selections of Ioane, Fifita, Laumape or J. Barrett are anything to go by.
Hunt, 22, is a young flanker for The Highlanders with similar traits to Todd and Cane, and whilst he is effective at the basics, his lack of flair and ‘X-factor’ makes him a risky selection for the future.
Gibson, 22, is another young flanker for The Blues. Following an Ardie Savea archetype, Gibson is a smaller openside than Hunt or Todd. This said, he offers plenty of power, speed and intelligence. Running over big names like Ben Smith and Nehe Milner-Skudder, Gibson provides the ‘X-Factor’ Hunt may be missing, but simultaneously lacks the core fundamentals that Todd delivers.
There is a depth in the position that bodes well for the future of New Zealand rugby. However, with such depth, it is difficult to decide who could do the openside role most effectively. So, New Zealand, who do you think is our best openside flanker for the 2019 Rugby World Cup?
Author: Malachai Wylie
Author: Malachai Wylie
Malachai Wylie has been a player, fan, ambassador and sporting fanatic for many years. He is passionate about All Black rugby and the deeply ingrained Rugby culture within New Zealand, and this won’t be going away anytime soon! When he is not watching rugby replays or highlight reels, he spends his time studying towards a degree in Communications. Combining all these together, it’s no wonder the 1014 is his current homepage!