Brad Weber would’ve been the next-best option for the World Cup
I’ve written already this week about where I think last Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup clash with Australia was won, but I overlooked one important ingredient – Aaron Smith’s voice.
Smith is still a very fine player, but I believe this greatest attribute now is organisational.
Forwards need to be told where to go and what to do and Smith never leaves them in any doubt.
The All Blacks’ comeback in Dunedin was in part due to Smith’s tutelage, as the pack immediately went forward and sapped Australia’s resolve.
The difference between the performance and attitude of the forwards Smith played behind and those of starting halfback Finlay Christie was striking.
I’m not for a minute suggesting Christie is no good. Just as I can’t ignore the promise of third-stringer Cam Roigard.
But if we’re looking for a bloke to bark at forwards in the way Smith so effectively does, then Weber would’ve been the next-best option.
Christie and Roigard are trying to find their feet as players. They don’t have the experience and command to bully big forwards yet.
I hope a lack of voice from No.9, when Smith isn’t on the park, doesn’t hurt the team when it counts.
Beyond that, I wasn’t too hot and bothered about selections.
I’m not absolutely sold on the outside backs or loose forwards, but that’s about it.
Telea is a bit more unique, but Fainga’anuku and Clarke essentially offer the same thing, with the former doing it a lot better than the latter in my opinion.
I’d have liked a bit more versatility in the back-three, of the sort that Shaun Stevenson might have provided.
If Frizzell can continue his form, then maybe that’s not a big deal. But he’s 28 caps into his Test career and the forgettable games definitely outnumber the memorable ones.
These are minor quibbles, though.
Not because the squad as a whole is so outstanding. More because it’ll be the tight five, halfback and first five-eighth that either win or lose New Zealand the world cup.
That’s why I go back to Weber and have expressed reservations about Damian McKenzie.
We have good options in the tight five and, in Smith and Richie Mo’unga, an accomplished halves pairing. But Smith can’t be on the park all the time and if Mo’unga falls over we don’t have anyone who’s remotely a like-for-like replacement.
We can’t conjure another game-controlling first five out of thin air, but we could have given ourselves the comfortable option of Weber waiting in the wings behind Smith.