One of the objectives for Steve Hansen ahead of the All Blacks northern tour is to confirm which of the incumbents and fringe players will likely make up the core of the squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Some key positions are lacking in depth of quality, particularly at halfback. Why else would a departing Tawera Kerr-Barlow be on the plane? However, it’s the inconclusive performances of the All Blacks midfield that is under the microscope.
Ryan Crotty is a first choice selection but which is his best position and who should be his midfield partner?
The Crusaders play Crotty at second five, and the All Blacks play him at centre. They’re both similar positions yet have different roles in attack and defence. The position that Crotty plays dictates who becomes his running partner.
There is no shortage of contenders, but none so far have made a compelling case to be considered an automatic selection.
Ngani Laumape, Sonny Bill Williams and a fit-again Charles Ngatai are contenders for the no.12 jersey. Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown are rivals for the no.13 jersey. Not only does Hansen need to settle on his no.1 combination but he needs to provide them sufficient opportunity to develop as a unit.
The best periods of All Blacks rugby in the past have featured settled midfield combinations. Taylor and Stanley, Little and Bunce, Mauger and Umaga, Nonu and Smith. Their strength was drawn from being greater than the sum of their parts. That is what is missing from the All Blacks midfield at the moment.
Time is still on Hansen’s side, settling on the right midfield balance can click as quickly and smoothly as when you know you’ve found your lifetime partner in love.
It’s when you force a combination together that it feels like a development project that you hope will pay off.
Author: Sam Taulelei
I discovered my passion for watching sport later in life.
As a kid I enjoyed playing sport more than watching it on TV. Then I discovered the power of books and would lose many hours reading about different sports and participants. My passion for reading and writing led me to a career in…….IT, yep I know.
Anyway it wasn’t until the emergence of this little thing called the internet that I rekindled my first love of sport and writing about it. I have a natural curiosity and love to solve the question of why did something happen as opposed to just writing about what happened.
I’m Wellington born and raised now living across the ditch.