With squads of 31 allowed for the Rugby World Cup in Japan, most teams will be taking 9 locks and loose forwards. It’s a tight area that needs a mix of specialism and flexibility. Mike Rehu takes a look at what the All Blacks squad might look like for these positions.
With Sam Cane’s successful outing off the pine for the Chiefs at the weekend, it would seem that six lock/loose forward places are sealed in the All Blacks’ RWC squad. Cane showed no physical effects coming back and more importantly has lost none of his love for contact.
When you reel off the names Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Kieran Read, Ardie Savea and Sam Cane you are talking about half a dozen of the best players in the world. No argument there.
That leaves space for only three more players to cover these two positions. Liam Squire has not played for seven months, withdrawing from the Highlanders’ bench two weeks ago and now is out of action for ‘personal reasons’. It adds a load of intrigue on who will be the other three players on the plane.
All Blacks’ coach Steve Hansen has consistently supported Squire and with good reason. At the peak of his powers, he is a destructive force with the ball and on defence. Supporters of other candidates’ point to the fact that Liam Squire has never started three tests in a row, an important point when the spectre of three knockout games against the best in the world have to be played in three weeks.
However, if Squire’s personal issues go away, he gets on the field and Hansen follows through on being faithful to his experienced troops you have seven pros who will form the pod that will be selected for the big games.
If we anticipate that Hansen will go with experience in the South African pool game and knock out matches you would look at a back row and locking unit of 8. Read 7. Cane 6. Squire 5. Retallick 4. Whitelock and have Barrett and Savea off the bench for impact.
It would appear that you have at least 12 other players who have a chance at the final two spots. Let’s have a shot at giving them a percentage mark of making the squad. My choices may surprise you. What would your choices be?
Patrick Tuipulotu – 37%
“Wait!” I hear you say, “there’s only room for three locks and you have them already!” My theory is that Scott Barrett is ranked 2nd behind Squire in the blindside flanker position, so if Squire goes down and Barrett is judged as a swing player rather than specialist lock you will need one more big man. Paddy has a great mixture of line out ability (29 takes, 2 steals), hard yards up the middle and offloading (11 defenders beaten and 12 successful offloads).
Dalton Papalii – 36%
If you have a true lock in Tuipulotu in the squad, the last player needs to cover all loose forward positions and Papalii has the inside running. His Super numbers are looking great for 2019, even though he is flying under the radar. He’s averaging over 5 metres a carry this season (more than Savea), two tries, has great turnover numbers with low errors (12 made, 3 lost) and he’s a line out target. He is the third option for all loose forward positions. (8 Read, Savea, Papalii. 7 Cane, Savea, Papalii. 6 Squire, Barrett, Papalii).
Vaea Fifita – 35%
If they don’t go for Tuipolotu then Fifita will be the choice to step up as the 4th lock/3rd 6 role. If Barrett is the 2nd ranked starting 6 and started he would probably be pencilled in to move to lock after 60 minutes and Fifita would take over at 6. This leaves us with less power in a 4th lock option for pool games/injuries but more athleticism. Fifita’s line out work has been fantastic this season, 42 takes and 5 steals but his error rate around the field has been very high, 12 turnovers given away on dropped balls and his tackle completion rate is down at 81.6%.
Shannon Frizzell – 32%
Frizell would be the preferred candidate over Fifita if they want the muscle. He is a major asset is around the field; 6 tries, and an almost 95% tackle completion rate. He has beaten 50% more defenders than Fifita and has 400% more offloads with less time on the field. If he was selected over Tuipolotu and Fifita we’d be exposed at lock.
Matt Todd – 25%
Todd would vault into contention if Cane or Savea went down. As you’d expect, he has a high tackle count (125 at 93.3% completion) great turnover rate (16 made, 10 lost) but low carry rates. Sadly suffers from being the third choice and a specialist openside.
The Big Red had been the form 6 in Super rugby until Jacobson started his startling run. Jacobson’s rise has muddied the water over both of them. The Chief’s stocks could rise if Papalii is injured and the selectors are looking for an athlete who covers 6,7 and 8. These two guys are locked in for the future but it’s difficult to see the selectors giving them the nod this year. A speculative run in warm up games perhaps?
Whitelock is a defensive leader and senior player, he could come into contention if Read was not right.
Akira Ioane – 5%
Has improved his work rate and churning out some good stats. He has played massive minutes (920), his tackle rate is 91.3% and he is the top 20 for Carries, defenders beaten and turnovers. Certainly has a shot at 8 for next year with no Read although it’s interesting that the Highlanders tried Frizell at 8 at the weekend.
Jordan Taufua and Elliot Dixon – 3%
Both players are great grafters and have experience but there would have to be a miserable run of injuries before they are in the frame.
Sam Warburton discusses Wales’ World Cup chances:
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