NZ Rugby World
OPPORTUNITIES WILL BE TAKEN
There was some concern about New Zealand's lack of depth at lock when Super Rugby Aotearoa kicked off.
Brodie Retallick couldn't be persuaded to abondon his Japanese sabbatical and turn out for the Chiefs and then Scott Barrett damaged his foot shortly before the first game.
The competition kicked off with Sam Whitelock and Patrick Tuipulotu as the only two capped locks in the competition. Clearly, with Barrett's injury likely to require four months recovery time, the All Blacks were keen to find more contenders for their test programme in 2020.
In the first few weeks, no one emerged. Not obviously anyway and the cupboard looked worryingly bare. But by the end of Super Rugby Aotearoa a handful of young locks had pressed their claim.
The Highlanders had three who stood up. The much touted Pari Pari Parkinson finally delivered consistently disciplined and strong performances, but was injured in the last week of competition.
Jack Whetton, son of former All Blacks captain Gary, surged strongly in the final few weeks and so too did their team-mate Manaaki Selby-Rickit who earned selection in the South Island team for the inter-Island clash.
All three brought presence, lineout skills and genuine grunt around the field.
Mitchell Dunshea at the Crusaders was another who played well and by the end of the campaign, Quinten Strange was back from injury and showing the sort of form that enabled him to catch the eye in previous seasons.
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger, in noting the way many of his young squad struggled at first before finding their feet later in the season, said: “We are a totally different team from the start of the year. I think there are some good lessons for the younger guys about what is expected and the condition you need to turn up to excel and grow your game at this level.
“You don’t know what you don’t know. If there are a lot of young guys in the same position, it is quite a big responsibility, almost a burden, for those older guys, the leaders, to get their own body right, and prepare themselves.”