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‘Acts as motivation’: All Blacks hopeful Cortez Ratima ‘chasing’ Cam Roigard

By Finn Morton
(Photos by MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP via Getty Images/David Ramos - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

There was no fairytale finish for Aaron Smith in last year’s Rugby World Cup final. After more than 120 Test matches, Smith’s legendary All Blacks career came to a heartbreaking end.

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New Zealand were pipped by arch-rugby-rivals South Africa 12-11 at Stade de France, and that saw a number of all-time All Blacks greats bow out with a result their careers didn’t deserve.

But still, not long after referee Wayne Barnes brought an end to the thrilling finale, Smith was photographed smiling as he walked past the Webb Ellis Cup while holding his son. It’s an image that should live on in New Zealand’s sporting history.

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By walking across that podium to collect the less desired silver medal, Smith was enjoying some of his last moments as an All Black with a loved one.

It was the end of an era, though. There’s no more Smith, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Dane Coles and more – and that’ll take some getting used to.

With their spots now vacant within the All Blacks’ setup, there appears to be some very real opportunities for younger players to step up and make their mark at Test level.

Rising star Cam Roigard, who debuted for New Zealand last year, seems one step ahead in the race to succeed Smith at halfback. The Hurricane took out the All Blacks’ Bronco pre-season test with a time of four minutes and 12 seconds earlier this month.

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That time has put other All Blacks hopefuls on notice, including Cortez Ratima – another halfback who could potentially rival Roigard for the All Blacks’ No. 9 jersey for years to come.

“We’ve pretty much played each other through school, known each other through school. We’re the same age,” Ratima told RugbyPass when asked about Cam Roigard.

“He’s a real competitor. Quite physical, a strong ball carrier, he’s just fit, his skillset’s on point, he’s got a great kick.

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“He is where every nine in New Zealand is probably striving to be. I’ll be chasing that and trying to better my game.

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“It just raises the bar (Roigard’s Bronco time). It’s just something for nines that want to be in that position to aim to,” he added, with Ratima registering a time of 4.23 with the Chiefs.

“I guess it just acts as motivation.”

With last year’s Super Rugby Pacific final at Hamilton’s FMG Stadium Waikato hanging in the balance, Ratima was helping steer the Chiefs around the park from halfback.

Having replaced then-co-captain Brad Weber, who has since left New Zealand’s shores after signing for Stade Francais in Paris, Ratima did everything to help the Chiefs snatch the final from the jaws of defeat.

But it wasn’t to be as the Chiefs fell short against the Crusaders. Just like the All Blacks after the World Cup final, it was a bitter end to storied careers as the Chiefs farewelled icons of their jersey that night.

With a new season less than 50 days away, an opportunity to start anew for those still playing awaits. For Ratima, that means embracing the “opportunity” to potentially start in the No. 9 jersey.

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If the 22-year-old can do that – as many believe he will – then the Chiefs halfback will look to impress as he chases the “ultimate goal” of becoming an All Black.

“That’s always gonna be the ultimate goal for myself. That’s the pinnacle of New Zealand rugby and where every nine would want to be,” Ratima said.

“I don’t know what you’re doing if you don’t want to be an All Black.

“That’s 100 per cent always the goal heading into the year, also obviously the goals of winning a Super Rugby championship title, being the number nine come round one, they’re all goals.

“Just pretty much gonna do what I can, park them up (and) have them in eyesight but try and live in the now and do what I can and take it one step at a time.”

While the opportunity to potentially play for the All Blacks is waiting on the horizon for Ratima – as well as many other genuine candidates in New Zealand – the halfback is firmly focused on Super Rugby Pacific with the Chiefs.

Ratima will compete with former All Black Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and the Chiefs’ Bronco winner Xavier Roe (time of 4.19) for starting duties at the Hamilton-based Super Rugby franchise.

“It’s healthy competition. All three of us are driving each other to be better every day.

“We’re just out the putting our best foot forward to hopefully get there round one and be a part of the team and contribute.

“We love it though. We all have a real good relationship with each other. I’ve been with Xave pretty much since I’ve been a professional footy player. I’ve got a pretty good relationship with him.”

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Poorfour 5 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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