All Blacks coach opens up on the three-horse race for fullback spot
Damian McKenzie has dominated the No 15 jersey so far this test season, having started there in four of the five All Blacks tests against Tonga, Fiji and the Wallabies since July.
It’s probable the 26-year-old will be named there again when the All Blacks announce their team to face Australia for the final Bledisloe Cup match of the year on Sunday, with continuity expected in the starting lineup.
However, while McKenzie remains the incumbent thanks to his impressive playmaking work from the back, Plumtree revealed opportunities are likely to come at fullback for Barrett and Jordan against other opposition later this year.
Jordan has dominated the right wing spot, while Barrett has largely had to make do with cameo appearances off the bench, but both could see game time as starters in their preferred No 15 jersey against the likes of the Springboks and Los Pumas.
With older brother Beauden Barrett set to start at first-five in the absence of Richie Mo’unga in two days’ time, there may even be a temptation to thrust Jordie into fullback to rekindle the playmaking chemistry between the siblings.
Although Plumtree admitted McKenzie still has the inside running for this week’s clash, he noted the efforts of the younger Barrett sibling hasn’t gone unnoticed by the All Blacks selectors.
“Certainly it’s an option, but Damian McKenzie’s played pretty well, we feel,” Plumtree said when asked about the possibility of pairing Barrett up with Beauden in the dual playmaker role this weekend.
“Jordie’s sitting there on the fringes and we know what Jordie can bring to a test match like this, so we’ve certainly talked about him as selectors, but obviously you’re going to have to wait and see what we do.
“He’s good to go and looking really good and really, really keen, as Jordie is, just dying for an opportunity. We’ll wait and see if he gets it.”
Similarly, the threat Jordan poses as an attacking prospect at fullback is tantalising, but, with McKenzie and Barrett ahead in the pecking order, the test rookie might have to bide his time before switching over from the wing.
That being said, the All Blacks will be on the road until late November, and with 10 test still to play this year, Plumtree hinted at least one of those matches could be used as a chance to see Jordan in action in the No 15 jersey.
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“Again, a really good player that can cover the back three comfortably,” Plumtree said of Jordan.
“We’ve been pretty happy with the way he’s performed on the wing and we know he can perform really well at fullback as well, but, I guess if you look at 1 and 2 right now, you’d say that Jordie and Damian have got those two positions, but you never know what can happen.
“Certainly, we’re in for a really long tour and obviously there’s going to be some injuries and we do have the luxury in our backline, guys like Rieko can play in the midfield, play on the wing comfortably, so we’re pretty blessed with those types of players that can play really well, some in three positions.”
All three players could feature in the All Blacks lineup for this week’s Wallabies test, with the team set to be announced at 3:30pm NZT.
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