NZ Rugby World
DEEPEN THE TALENT POOL
FROM HAVING AN ABUNDANCE OF FIRST-FIVE RICHES IN 2015, THE ALL BLACKS NOW ONLY HAVE TWO RECOGNISED NO 10S. THIS YEAR THEY ARE HOPING TO DEEPEN THEIR TALENT POOL.
It wasn’t so long ago that New Zealand had six first-fives vying to start for the All Blacks. Not so long ago was actually 2015 when the Super Rugby season kicked off with Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor all harbouring realistic dreams of making it to the World Cup.
By the middle of the campaign Lima Sopoaga had joined the chasing pack and it really did look like quality No 10s were growing on trees in New Zealand.
It was an incredible turnaround as four years before that New Zealand had famously been exposed as only having one test standard first-five.
They had the brilliant Carter and no one else – a point the entire nation came to learn when injury struck at the tournament. When Carter was ruled out there was a national panic as first Slade, then Cruden and then
Stephen Donald tried to step in for the man many say is the greatest No 10 to have ever played.
It probably wasn’t such a surprise then that when Steve Hansen took over as head coach in 2012 one of his first priorities was to build depth at first-five.
There was no way he was going to go something like that again and he wanted options in the key play-making role.
And that didn’t change throughout his coaching tenure. After Carter retired and Slade and Taylor left for France, the All Blacks promoted Damian McKenzie so they still had a pool of four – Barrett, Cruden, Sopoaga and McKenzie – that they were developing.
When Cruden left for France in 2017 it brought the pool down to three. That still felt like the All Blacks were well covered at that point.
But in 2018 it changed again when Sopoaga unexpectedly quit to join Wasps and McKenzie realised that he was more suited to fullback and so for the last two years the All Blacks have been working exclusively with Barrett and Richie Mo’unga as their options at first-five.
No one has been too worried about the lack of depth because the All Blacks have arguably the two best No 10s in the world vying to start.
Ideally, though, they will find at least another option during Super Rugby, if not two. Ideally, because an injury to either Barrett or Mo’unga will leave them exposed.
The All Blacks need a third No 10, maybe not in their squad as such, but someone they can trust to come in at short notice and do a job for them.
That need will be intensified by the absence of Barrett during Super Rugby who will be in Japan. Not having him around will provide a sharp reminder of how thin the options are at No 10 and the pressing need for someone to emerge in Super Rugby as a serious contender for the All Blacks.
We look at the contenders who will be hoping to win All Blacks selection alongside Barrett and Mo’unga this year.