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Clamour for new unproven players as All Blacks is misguided thinking

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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I get that new players are exciting.

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And I get that the All Blacks aren’t exactly bulletproof right now.

But what I don’t get is our collective urge to anoint the next big thing.

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One day it’s Bailyn Sullivan. Then it’s his brother Zarn. Taine Plumtree, Tom Robinson and Stephen Perofeta are among the other talented, but wholly unproven, players being talked about as potential All Blacks.

We all appreciate that there has to be a place for the bolter. That person who emerges late and suddenly in the Rugby World Cup cycle and becomes an integral part of the All Blacks’ plans.

Think Jonah Lomu, for instance, who began uncertainly in 1994 but nearly proved a world-beater come 1995.

But among the reasons I don’t understand the clamour for new blood in this instance, is I don’t believe All Blacks coach Ian Foster is a man for the bold move.

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If you haven’t appeared in the squad already, then I don’t think you’ve got much chance of being there come 2023.

And, frankly, I don’t think it matters right now anyway because it’s arguable whether enough expertise exists within the All Blacks’ coaching group to get many – or any – players to perform to their potential.

That’s a problem and perhaps partly why we prematurely push the claims of players not presently in the side.

Do you think the selectors have the stomach to dispense with the likes of Sam Whitelock, Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Richie Mo’unga or even Sam Cane? Or do you feel we’ll cross our fingers and hope the senior pros will perform when it counts?

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I’m not saying those guys are spent forces, by the way. Cane’s actually going all right for the Chiefs.

In ideal circumstances I’d like all those guys in my squad. Same with others who are getting on in age or are potentially under pressure to hold their spots, such as Dane Coles, George Bridge and David Havili.

There’s a regard, too, in which Foster is unfortunate here.

I’d wager there’s a potential limit to how long guys can be coached by Scott Robertson. The man’s record with Canterbury and the Crusaders is exceptional, but he’s been in that system a long time.

It was in the late 2000s that he joined Rob Penney’s Canterbury staff, before Tabai Matson took over and finally Robertson himself.

I think only Whitelock is of an age to have known red-and-black rugby before Razor.

For whatever reason, it feels as if it is a few Crusaders who’ve found it harder to fire under Foster.

By rights, Robertson shouldn’t still be with the Crusaders. He should be at a big European club or coaching test footy for someone.

Either way, you feel as if the continued presence of Robertson hampers Foster in some way.

It may be that the Crusaders’ players have Robertson-fatigue and are finding it increasingly hard to play their best rugby. Equally, those players might go into the All Blacks’ environment and wonder why it’s not Robertson who’s coaching them.

The bottom line is that the All Blacks have appeared devoid of energy and ideas in recent seasons and something has to change.

You can go the youth route. You can bin the big boys and plump for all the Plumtrees and Sullivans out there. That’ll certainly change things.

But whether that would be for the better is highly debatable.

The more likely scenario is that our 2023 Rugby World Cup is largely set in stone. That what we’ve already got is what we’re going to get come next year.

In that case, can we can the clamour for new blood and concentrate on trying to get the most out of what’s there already? I mean it’s not as if these blokes aren’t elite rugby players.

Far from encouraging the national selectorial and coaching staff to unearth new talent, we should be demanding that they get performances out of players who’ve previously proved that they’re up to it.

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