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Don't be fearful of life without Whitelock, Retallick or Smith

Sam Whitelock is congratulated by Aaron Smith of the All Blacks during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between New Zealand and Italy at Parc Olympique on September 29, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

I’m going to assume Scott Roberston was caught on the hop.

It happens to players and coaches all the time, despite the increasing efforts of media minders to make sure questions are preempted.

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All the same, there are times in an interview situation, when someone will be asked something they weren’t expecting.

Because if Robertson, when doing a television appearance this week, really thought lock and halfback were areas of weakness or concern for the All Blacks team he is inheriting, then I have concerns for what games he’s been watching and how well he knows the player pool.

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Perhaps he was, if a little clumsily, trying to emphasise how important players such as Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock have been over the years.

Maybe, in a cack-handed kind of way, he just wanted to emphasise the trio’s place in history.

But, honestly, I’m actually quite enthused about who’s about to assume those positions.

I don’t want to put the mocker on him, but Cam Roigard has the potential to be the absolute star of the Super Rugby Pacific season.

Beyond him, players such Folau Fakatava, Cortez Ratima and Finlay Christie are all capable footballers. I’ve learnt not to write TJ Perenara off either.

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There’s an argument to be made that Roigard was the most under-utilised All Black at last year’s Rugby World Cup and, if ever a player appeared poised for stardom, it would be him.

We’ll wait and see.

Just as we’ll wait to see what Josh Lord’s true ability as a test lock is and Tupou Vaai’i, for that matter.

I think the Chiefs have Super Rugby Pacific champions written all over them, in no small part because of having those two blokes in the second row.

Patrick Tuipulotu still has some good test rugby ahead of him, Scott Barrett will be one of the first names on the All Blacks’ team sheet and I’ve always had a soft spot for Quinten Strange.

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Then there’s Mitchell Dunshea.

I suspect these are the kinds of selection conversations we’ll indulge in throughout Super Rugby Pacific, given the competition itself might struggle to win hearts and minds.

On a weekly basis, we’ll fall in and out of love with players and opine about who’s deserving of All Blacks consideration.

We are at the start of a new world cup cycle and regeneration will be a theme of the next few years. Mainstays of the Steve Hansen and Ian Foster eras are gradually stepping away and we will begin to get a team that’s largely created in Robertson’s image.

I do have reservations about the depth of some of our Super Rugby Pacific squads, but not in our ability to still find enough capable blokes to fill All Blacks jumpers.

Whatever the failings of provincial and franchise football, the schools system continues to produce enough athletes for our coaches to hopefully turn into rugby players.

We’ll remember men such as Retallick, Whitelock and Smith fondly, but we shouldn’t be fearful of life without them.

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