Rieko Ioane’s time starting at centre was interrupted by a return to last year’s World Cup centre pairing of Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown in the All Blacks 27-7 win over the Wallabies.
Originally named on the bench, Ioane pulled out with a late injury, opening the door for Hurricanes centre Peter Umaga-Jensen to make his international debut.
Goodhue and Lienert-Brown delivered a solid performance in defence and attack in Ioane’s absence, with Goodhue becoming the lynchpin of the All Blacks set-piece while he was on the field.
Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall said that Goodhue was “a lot better” after a rather innocuous opening test in Wellington.
“I thought the combination of Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown, their defensive efforts were fantastic,” Hall said.
“I thought Jack was a lot better defensively, and looked a lot more settled than he has the last couple of test matches. I know we did talk around the selection issue of whether it was going to be Rieko or Anton but I actually thought they were pretty solid those two.
“Just on attack too, I thought Jack looked a lot better as well. You know those little touches that he’s done at the Crusaders, that linking play with a pass or an offload, I thought he was a lot better this week.”
Blues hooker James Parsons, a sideline commentator for the match, added many don’t realise the parts of his game that enable others around him to flourish, highlighting the kind of touch he made to put Jordie Barrett in for a try in the second half.
“I was right near him at one stage down the edge. When you are playing him you actually don’t appreciate his skillset and his time on the ball,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“He gets the ball, there is a man on him, he shapes inside and gets it away, and then just gets hit. I was just like, geez that’s good. I got to see it close up.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 20, 2020
He also highlighted the work rate that both the centres did defensively, which was what they were brought into the starting side to do.
“What I noticed most about him, and Anton, is defensively they are just everywhere. The kilometres, I’d love to see both their GPS data numbers.
“Jack got subbed, and we all once you sit down it’s quite hard to get warm, Peter Umaga-Jensen goes off and he comes back on, I think he made another 10 tackles. He just looked like he was ready to go again.
“I thought the midfield worked really well, for what they were there to do, which was to shore up the defence.
“I will still argue those two players will never have the X-factor of what Rieko has, but in terms of their partnership and what they still offered in attack I think was much better.
“Again, I hate to harp on about it but the phase play shape allowed them that comfortable nature of what they are used to, Mo’unga and Goodhue, to flourish.”
One of the criticisms of Goodhue is that he wasn’t a pure direct runner that is able to get over the gain line, but both Parsons and Hall said he answered that on Sunday.
“He was good, straight off the scrum before Aaron Smith scored, he took that crash ball, bang, sucked in defenders and created that opportunity for Nuggy [Smith] to take,” Parsons recalled of Goodhue’s power running.
“He was definitely a strong performer.
“It looks like that’s what they are sticking with [the Goodhue-Lienert-Brown combination].”
Hall explained that Goodhue is still adjusting to moving inside one position after playing as an outside centre for most his Crusaders career before moving in one this year after Ryan Crotty’s departure.
“Jack had a lot of time at the Crusaders this year playing at 12. I think in that position it is a lot more directing, it’s that second pivot, very similar to [Matt] To’omua, helping out with the communication,” Hall explained.
“Jack was an out-and-out centre for the Crusaders before moving to 12 this year. I think it’s just going take him a bit of time.
“He had a great teacher in Ryan Crotty, to be able to learn off. For him I think the more time he gets in that jersey at that level, he’ll make those little improvements slowly.
“If you think about it, I would’ve thought they would have gone Anton at 12 and Jack at 13, that’s the combination they had at the World Cup so they must be seeing Jack as a 12 moving forward.
“We know that he is strong defensively and makes good decisions on attack, but that second pivot role and helping out the 10 and that connection with the 15, that will be the dressing for him moving forward in that environment.”
If Goodhue is the future 12 for the All Blacks, the Aotearoa Rugby Pod panel predicted that Ioane and Lienert-Brown might be the ones to split time in the 13 jersey, with the latter destined to potentially return to his bench role.
“He’s played that 23 role a lot,” Parsons said, “With Rieko’s ability to go to the wing, that suits.
“You look at the North vs South game, Anton and Rieko were pretty good. I’d like to see more of them together but after yesterday’s performance Jack has really taken control of that 12 jersey.”
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