Weekend Herald

The ALL BLACKS are back

Con­tentious Bledis­loe calls & the e three rook­ies

- Rugby Liam Napier in Welling­ton

No set for­mula was ap­plied to se­lect­ing the first All Blacks team of the year. Form is re­warded in some cases; ex­pe­ri­ence favoured in oth­ers, with three rook­ies ready to be un­leashed from the pow­er­ful, at­tack­ing- minded bench to­mor­row in Welling­ton.

With so much world- class tal­ent miss­ing out, and ro­ta­tion cer­tain in the com­ing weeks, there’s no short­age of pres­sure to per­form against the Wal­la­bies at Sky Sta­dium.

As with any All Blacks team, de­bate will rage un­til kick­off about whether the se­lec­tors made the right calls. The ma­jor points of con­tention are Beau­den Bar­rett at full­back, which pushes younger brother Jordie to the right wing. Rieko Ioane’s nod at cen­tre, af­ter start­ing 25 of his 29 tests on the left wing, re­flects his abil­ity to change the se­lec­tors’ minds.

In dis­cussing his first All Blacks team as head coach, Ian Foster con­ceded Jordie Bar­rett was the best full­back in the coun­try this sea­son.

But for the first test of the year, the All Blacks want to re­tain the Richie Mo’unga- Beau­den Bar­rett dual- play­maker com­bi­na­tion used through­out 2019, while the younger Bar­rett’s form was too good to ig­nore.

“With this team be­ing new, hav­ing two fan­tas­tic de­ci­sion- mak­ers is go­ing to help drive us around the park. It’s a se­lec­tion for this test,” Foster said of the Mo’unga- Bar­rett combo. “Beau­den still wants to play 10 but we also know how in­flu­en­tial he can be at 15. Prob­a­bly the form 15 in the coun­try has been Jordie. I think you’ll find him in the back­field any­way. We kind of feel we get the best of both worlds.”

Jordie Bar­rett has played 17 tests since 2017, prov­ing his tal­ent against the Bri­tish and Irish Lions but mak­ing a few high- pro­file mis­takes in that time, too.

This sea­son, though, he emerged from his brother’s shadow to ma­ture his de­ci­sion- mak­ing with the Hur­ri­canes. His prodi­gious punt and phys­i­cal­ity were other reg­u­lar fea­tures.

“Clearly it’s an area in the past where he made a few er­rors but he has been a kid on a big stage, and be­cause of his tal­ent, he played some big test matches very young.

“How im­pres­sive has he been this year? To be­come one of the key lead­ers in that Hur­ri­canes team, and to take con­trol of a lot of sit­u­a­tions, help­ing oth­ers has helped his game. I want to keep him in that space, I don’t want him to go into his shell. I want him to be in­flu­en­tial, the more times he can be in­volved, the bet­ter for us.”

Most pun­dits be­lieve full­back is the 23- year- old’s best po­si­tion but he is con­tent to keep Sevu Reece and Will Jor­dan out of the team and hold off rookie Blues wing Caleb Clarke, who is named on the bench for the first time. Ge­orge Bridge’s poise has been favoured on the other edge.

“I’m not go­ing to fight over it with my brother,” Jordie said of the full­back role. “He’s got the jersey and I’m just look­ing at things I can do on the wing to help the team get a win.

“It has been a year or so since I got the op­por­tu­nity to play along­side Beaudy.

“Feed­ing off him and try­ing to re­act in­stinc­tively and pop up in dif­fer­ent spots will be nice.”

Foster con­firmed the All Blacks viewed Ioane as a wing- cen­tre at the start of this year. The po­tency of Ioane’s at­tack­ing abil­ity, his line run­ning and speed, cou­pled with his im­proved de­fen­sive work in the mid­field for the Blues and North side, al­tered those per­cep­tions.

“We felt he could play cen­tre but we didn’t know how quick it was go­ing to be,” Foster said af­ter start­ing Ioane along­side Jack Good­hue in the new- look pair­ing which leaves An­ton Lienert- Brown on the bench.

“He’s worked re­ally well dur­ing the Blues cam­paign and com­mit­ted to it. We still like him on the wing, but he’s put for­ward such a com­pelling case that he’s changed our mind, so good on him.

“That was one of our tough­est se­lec­tions, the mid­field. We’ve got mas­sive faith in An­ton, we know he can do a job, but it’s a bit of a re­ward for Rieko’s form. He’s con­fi­dent, he’s run­ning fast.”

The for­ward pack seems a more straight­for­ward se­lec­tion, with Shannon Frizell right­fully re­claim­ing the blind­side role af­ter a series of bru­tal per­for­mances for the Highlander­s.

Blues prop Ofa Tu­un­gafasi is an­other to force his way past Nepo Laulala and de­mand the start at tight­head.

At the start of this new cy­cle, af­ter last year’s World Cup de­feat, the in­jec­tion of youth from the bench, with Hoskins So­tutu, Clarke and Tupou Vaa’i set to de­but, adds to the big oc­ca­sion to­mor­row.

“You see young men grow over the years,” Foster said. “They work hard to chase a dream, then they get a sniff, then it be­comes a re­al­ity and it sinks in and it’s quite a big mo­ment. For the team, it shows we’ve got faith in our squad and we know this is a year we’re go­ing to need that. If they’ve got the en­ergy and they’ve set­tled in well, then let’s get them on the park.”

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 ?? Photo / Mark Mitchell ?? All Blacks Jordie Bar­rett ( left) and Rieko Ioane were the cen­tre of at­ten­tion dur­ing a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day in Welling­ton ahead of to­mor­row’s test against the Wal­la­bies.
Photo / Mark Mitchell All Blacks Jordie Bar­rett ( left) and Rieko Ioane were the cen­tre of at­ten­tion dur­ing a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day in Welling­ton ahead of to­mor­row’s test against the Wal­la­bies.

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