Do the All Blacks favour the incumbent battlers of years past, or do they try something new?

The Lions Tour midweek games are proving themselves to be pivotal to the test inclusion or exclusion of the All Blacks, as well as the Lions. Some players have shone, but others have disappointed, thereby dashing their chances of representing their nations in the upcoming battle.

These games help the All Blacks coaching staff evaluate their strategies; to refine any changes required. One potential change that would look to improve the already dangerous All Black backline would involve the number eleven jersey.

Waisake Naholo’s inclusion into the All Blacks squad surprised nobody. However, his role within the team isn’t believed to be as a starter. Despite this, his performance against the Lions on Tuesday night was immaculate. He was dynamic in attack, strong in defence, all of which contributed to an overall fantastic performance. If he can carry this confidence into the test arena (if given a chance), then the All Blacks will prove themselves to be even more of a threat in attack.

“I was just a bit hungry, I was excited, I was telling the guys I was excited to get the ball in my hands.” – Naholo

The blockbusting contenders

As is evident via New Zealand media, Naholo’s performance has not gone unnoticed. Many journalists around the country have challenged Steve Hansen, to make the right call with his incredible depth regarding the outside backs.

Naholo is battling for a starting berth now, that is certain. But to gain selection, he would not only need to win over the All Black selectors, but he would also have to replace the incumbent All Blacks winger in Julian Savea.

Savea is one of the best wingers this country has ever seen. When he is performing, he reminds many of the late Jonah Lomu. The man nicknamed The Bus has scored 45 tries throughout his international career, nearing the record of 49 set by Doug Howlett.

Despite this incredible feat, Savea has come under fire recently due to his inconsistent performances. Ever since the 2015 Super Rugby season, Savea has shown glimpses of excellence, but also signs of weakness.

Julian Savea – Out with the Old?

Strengths

Stopping Savea in full flight, when playing as we all know he can, is nigh on impossible. His ability to run over world-class defenders is unmatched, which makes him an asset to the All Blacks more often than not.

Weaknesses

For years, rumours regarding Savea’s confidence have surfaced to explain periods of poor performance. When his confidence is low, he can be left exposed on defence, as the Lions very own George North showed us last year for Wales. He also falters in attack. No one who witnessed the destruction of France in Cardiff will ever doubt his attacking prowess, but it is harnessing this that is the big challenge. The unknown quantity. Yes, he can still run over defenders, but he’s getting stopped more often than not. Which Savea is going to turn up for the test series is the question on all All Blacks fans’ lips.

Is it unfair to state that the once sacred winger has become too predictable? Possible analysis paralysis by the opposition? Photo: Scott Davis
Is it unfair to state that the once sacred winger has become too predictable? Possible analysis paralysis by the opposition?
Photo: Scott Davis

Naholo – In with the new?

Strengths

The international rugby fan base witnessed an immaculate performance by Naholo on Tuesday night. He proved himself to be an incredible rugby player when he is on form, especially in attack. Containing him was difficult, and yes, he will come up against better wingers if selected for the All Blacks. But you can’t deny the impact he had for the Highlanders in their rousing 23-22 victory over the Lions.

Naholo uses agility to beat defenders, as well as brute force. Did he do enough on Tuesday night?
Naholo uses agility to beat defenders, as well as brute force. Did he do enough on Tuesday night?

Weaknesses

Consistency remains an issue for most rugby players, Naholo included. His performance against the Lions was eye-catching. But it is the backing up consistently of this type of performance that remains unknown. He has gone quiet during games throughout this Super Rugby season, however, whatever the All Blacks selectors said to him worked on Tuesday night.

Verdict

Steven Hansen, you need to pick Naholo. His performance was simply too good to go unnoticed. If he were to be included in the All Blacks starting fifteen, then his match-up with George North (expecting selection) could be one of the most anticipated match-ups in recent international history.

Both Savea and Naholo play a similar game, where they act as brutes attempting to run over everyone in front of them. The thing that separates the two though is that Naholo appears to have a greater skill set. This is something that will undoubtedly tempt the All Black selectors.

My expectation is that Savea will be named on the left wing to face Samoa. They will give him every possible chance to regain form.

What a headache to have!

Photos: www.photosport.nz

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Author: Finn Morton

To say I’m obsessed with sport is an understatement. It was due to this passion that I realised a career in sports journalism was the way to go. I’m looking to spread my passion for sport whilst gaining some valuable experience.

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