'Bizarre': All Blacks greats puzzled by glaring non-selections for Ireland series
All Blacks greats have called into question the omission of two players they believe could have made a difference in New Zealand’s recent series defeat to Ireland.
Speaking in the wake of their first-ever home series defeat at the hands of the Irish, All Blacks legend Sir John Kirwan was left puzzled by New Zealand’s insistence to pick lock Scott Barrett at blindside flanker.
Normally a second rower, Barrett starred at No 6 in his side’s first-up win over Ireland in Auckland earlier this month, but was then moved back to lock in the absence of Sam Whitelock for their defeat in Dunedin a fortnight ago.
Barrett then failed to feature in the Wellington loss last weekend despite initially being named to start on the side of the scrum after succumbing to an injury.
In his latest appearance on The Breakdown, Kirwan asked why the All Blacks looked to use Barrett as a loose forward rather than a lock while expressing his view that Ian Foster’s side had lost its sense of playing identity.
Fellow ex-All Blacks star Jeff Wilson responded by outlining that the All Blacks looked to capitalise on Barrett’s physical presence and aerial threat.
However, Wilson noted that Barrett was the only player in the squad capable of fulfilling those requirements at No 6, which former All Blacks halfback Justin Marshall labelled as “bizarre”.
Wilson said that others, such as discarded All Blacks loose forwards Shannon Frizell, could have filled that role in Barrett’s positional shift in the second test, and in his absence during the third test.
“We looked for physicality, didn’t we? We looked for our lineout,” Wilson told The Breakdown of Barrett’s selection at blindside flanker.
“The interesting thing about that is that we haven’t got anyone else in the squad who fits that mould.
“The only guy, for me, who fits that mould is Shannon Frizell. He’s the only guy who carries hard, hits hard and is a great lineout option.”
Marshall added that Crusaders standout Cullen Grace could also be included in that mix, but Wilson wasn’t as convinced.
“Or Cullen Grace, but he’s a No 8 more, not the same height in terms of stature, not the same lineout target,” Wilson said.
“Once again, it’s one of those things where we’re searching right now. Clearly we’re clearly searching.”
Despite not featuring for the All Blacks against Ireland, Frizell was called into the national set-up in a training capacity in the lead-up to the second test after Whitelock and Tupou Vaa’i were ruled unavailable due to concussion and Covid, respectively.
Grace, meanwhile, impressed in his first two matches for the Maori All Blacks during their drawn two-game series with Ireland.
The one-test All Black’s performances in the mid-week matches in Hamilton and Wellington was a continuation of his Super Rugby Pacific form with the Crusaders, which led Scott Robertson to say Grace was “playing like an All Black”.
Either, or both, players could yet be included in the 36-man All Blacks squad to compete in the upcoming Rugby Championship, which kicks-off with two tests against the Springboks in South Africa on August 6 and August 13.
The All Blacks were expected to name their Rugby Championship squad on Wednesday, but that has been delayed as New Zealand Rugby continues its review of the series defeat to Ireland.
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