Bring back the Junior All Blacks
OPINION: The All Blacks’ midweek match against the French XV in Lyon highlighted the need for a return of the Junior All Blacks.
Seven players debuted in the 28-23 win yesterday and that follows the three who debuted against the Barbarians, a match which also did not carry test status. All of these men are still waiting for their first test caps, but can consider themselves fullyfledged All Blacks.
It was great watching the return of midweek rugby and raised questions of why New Zealand cannot carry a shadow team on every end-of-season tour playing regular midweek matches.
Of course, handing out memberships to the exclusive All Blacks group willy-nilly is not right so the shadow team should resurrect the Junior All Blacks brand, which has not been in regular action since they were replaced in the Pacific Nations Cup by the New Zealand Ma¯ ori in 2007.
That will give the selectors a chance to have a look at a broader crop of players while not tossing away All Blacks jerseys.
They would also be able to use the side to give opportunities to players lacking game time within the All Blacks squad.
The value of such matches can not be understated.
There was a lot to learn from the All Blacks’ match in Lyon.
Tim Perry and Jeffery Toomanga-allen showed they could handle scrums at the next level; Dominic Bird confirmed he is still an option at lock; Patrick Tuipulotu proved that his potential off the bench is too good to throw away; Akira Ioane’s positive cameo showed he needs more game-time outside of the questionable structures in Auckland; Matt Duffy and Jack Goodhue both showed promise in the backs.
Perhaps the most perplexing performance came from Ngani Laumape.
At times he was stunning, at others he was less impressive.
The reality was that he was somewhere in-between - not convincing enough to force his way ahead of Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienertbrown in the midfield peaking order, nor poor enough to fall behind Goodhue.
He has clearly put an emphasis on being a better distributor and passing more often.
But early in the match he was passing everything. At times he was just shovelling the ball off and was too reluctant to take the ball to the line.
Eventually he started mixing things up, the reward coming as he bumped off a defender and crashed over for a second half-try.
Laumape’s moment to forget came in the first half. He shovelled off a pass, that looked suspiciously forward, to Liam Squire, who spent much of the match stationed on the left wing. Squire was wide open, but the pass was picked off by impressive French wing Gabriel Lacroix who sprinted 80m for a try.
The key for Laumape heading forward is getting his variation of passing and running right. He needs to start with a couple straight runs to set the tone and keep the defence on their toes, then work from there.
All things considered, the All Blacks will be pleased to survive a potential banana-skin match.
Matt Duffie did very little wrong in his first match for the All Blacks.