The New Zealand Herald

Concrete Shoulders hard to leave out

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It’s at this point, with the domestic series against Tonga and Fiji over, and with the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championsh­ip featuring the varied physical threats of Australia, South Africa and Argentina fast approachin­g, that All Blacks head coach Ian Foster may be thankful for the progressio­n of one player in particular.

Given the options available to Foster, there are few players probably apart from Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Aaron Smith guaranteed to start in the Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park on August 7, but while No 8 Luke Jacobson, the player known at the Chiefs as “Concrete Shoulders”, isn’t quite set in stone he is likely to be on the team sheet in indelible ink at least.

There are fewer All Blacks as good at the breakdown as Jacobson and as ever this will be the battlegrou­nd over the next few months. Will Jordan’s five tries against Tonga at Mt

Smart Stadium caught the eye but Jacobson’s accuracy and efficiency at the tackled-ball area is likely to live long in the memory for Foster and his fellow selectors.

Jacobson’s skill there will allow Akira Ioane to operate to his ballplayin­g and running strengths slightly away from the breakdown and, with Ardie Savea an excellent allrounder, the Chiefs man is looming as a key link in the loose forward trio. It’s nothing more than he deserves after suffering the disappoint­ment of being sent home from the 2019 World Cup due to concussion issues.

Australia had a difficult series against France. They showed resilience to beat the French in

Brisbane despite the absence of redcarded wing Marika Koroibete for most of the test but it’s what they couldn’t do against a side without many of their establishe­d stars which was perhaps just as significan­t.

The Wallabies’ attack was relatively easily contained by the tourists which forced Dave Rennie’s men to go up the middle which they may resort to if and when they run out of ideas against the All Blacks. That may not be the wisest of plans against Jacobson as he will put pressure on Wallabies openside Michael Hooper to stay near the ball to neutralise the turnover threat the All Black poses.

Jacobson, a 24-year-old who played two tests in 2019 before his opportunit­ies for the All Blacks in south Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton this year, has been the big mover. And as the physical threats become more intense this year, so will his importance to the team.

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