Sunday News

Roigard puts Foster’s backup

- Marc Hinton in Toulouse

The future is now for the All Blacks. Cam Roigard’s brilliant two-try, player-of-thematch display against Namibia at Stadium de Toulose yesterday (NZ time) has well and truly put the backup halfback debate to bed for the remainder of this World Cup.

Even head coach Ian Foster, sometimes on the slow side to make what you might call daring selections, appeared to have settled on the glaring reality that the 22-year-old Roigard, with just three test caps and one start to his name, is now far and away his most capable No 9 not named Aaron Smith.

Roigard’s World Cup debut was nothing short of sensationa­l in this second Pool A match in the rugby capital of France as the All Blacks ran in 11 tries to dismantle Namibia 71-3.

He lit the fuse with two exhilarati­ng tries inside the first seven minutes, the first with lightning speed off a Leicester Fainga’anuku assist and the second when his forwards pushed the Namibians off the ball and Ardie Savea put him into enough space to dummy and spin over.

But it did not stop there. Roigard, one of New Zealand rugby’s finds of the season, stuffed the statsheet: he ran for 45 metres in his 67 minutes on field, made a trio of clean-breaks, beat five defenders, slipped an offload and made 51 passes in all. He also assuredly leapfrogge­d Finlay Christie in the No 9 pecking order.

“He played really well,” gushed Foster afterwards as his team ticked all but one box, with Ethan de Groot’s late red card (upgraded from an initial yellow for high contact) the only blot. “He had a pack in front of him that was giving him a platform, but he took his opportunit­ies.

“It’s one thing to have good go-forward ball, but he made good decisions with that and he should be really proud. He cleared well. He didn’t have to kick a lot, but when he did, he was effective and we saw the benefit of his running game.

“The last couple of weeks we’ve been really impressed with his growth during training. It was a big start for him and he certainly took the opportunit­y.”

Roigard was not the only player down the depth chart to push for promotion, but he was certainly the best. Damian McKenzie, David Havili and Fainga’anuku all signalled they’re up for more if required, while Luke Jacobson offered a nice reminder of his class should Shannon Frizell remain on the outer with that hamstring issue.

Ofa Tuungafasi also put in a strong shift at loosehead, which may be handy given de Groot’s likely suspension, while the old firm of Sam Whitelock (equalling Richie McCaw’s 148-cap record) and Brodie Retallick ruled the second row. Foster must now decide between them and Scott Barrett for the starting spots against Italy, who they meet next on Saturday, September 30 (8am

NZT) after a rest weekend.

Roigard was certainly keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground after a World Cup debut he called “a dream come true”.

“I was pretty fortunate how it unfolded early on. I got the nerves off early on being able to get to my game, and I was pretty fortunate our set piece with our forwards was dominant. We were able to get some go-forward ball and play the style we were after.”

He said seizing the moment early on the run had not necessaril­y been a focus, but was an added bonus that he was able to get into the game as a finisher.

“I was just trying to do my role, which is passing, speed to the ruck, and all that sort of stuff. The other stuff just unfolds naturally. I was given plenty of confidence to trust my instincts and just play what was in front of me which was really good for my preparatio­n, and took the pressure off a little bit.

“And having people like Damian and Beauden Barrett running the show outside of me made my job pretty easy really.”

He lauded McKenzie for helping to smooth over any cracks in their combinatio­n.

“I enjoyed it,” he said of their partnershi­p. “We all know how he likes to play with that attacking style of footy and that suits me a little bit as well, It’s awesome to have people outside me that want to pull the trigger and play the running rugby we’re after.”

And that try after just a minute? Was it the perfect injection of adrenaline for a young halfback looking to make his mark?

“It was almost a perfect start,” he grinned. “We had a big focus on trying not to get too ahead of ourselves.

“These games can get a bit all over the place if you overplay. We just had to make sure we stuck to our structures and kept to a high standard throughout the full 80.”

He was even on point with his attitude. Asked if this felt like him making his big move in this squad, the answer was textbook humility with just enough ambition thrown in.

“I guess so. It’s always a goal to be chasing into that matchday 23 as much as possible, but there will still be plenty of lessons and the main focus was to bounce back after a tough performanc­e last week and make sure we keep building as a team so heading into Italy in a couple of weeks’ time, we’re even better.”

Italy have two weeks to do their work on this fresh-faced Kiwi halfback.

He looks for all money the natural successor to Smith as he heads to Japan at tournament end. And, in the meantime ,quite a backup.

The All Blacks have a fortnight now to prepare for Italy in Lyon, and will hope to get Sam Cane, Jordie Barrett, Frizell and Tyrel Lomax all back. De Groot may be another matter.

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