Why Quinn Tupaea could be unlucky omission for test against Wales
Tupaea has been a standout for the All Blacks in the limited matches he has played for the New Zealand national side this year.
After impressing in his debut against Tonga in July, the 22-year-old midfielder produced a vital turnover penalty that enabled Jordie Barrett to land the match-winning shot at goal against the Springboks in Townsville last month.
He has since followed that up with a solid showing against the USA Eagles in Washington DC last weekend in a performance that has thrust him into the conversation to start at No 12 in major tests on the All Blacks’ end-of-year tour.
Tupaea’s size, strength, ball-carrying prowess and distribution skills has seemingly put David Havili’s status as the team’s first-choice second-five under threat against rush defences the All Blacks are set to encounter against the likes of Wales, Ireland and France.
However, ex-All Blacks hooker James Parsons and Maori All Blacks halfback Bryn Hall believe he could struggle to make this week’s match day squad at the Principality Stadium due to the form and positional versatility of his fellow squad members.
Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Parsons and Hall analysed what shape the All Blacks side could take for the opening match of the European leg of their end-of-year tour.
They asserted that, regardless of who starts and who is on the bench, Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett will both feature in the match day squad, and that Jordie Barrett is likely to start at fullback.
Parsons and Hall also predicted Havili to start alongside Anton Lienert-Brown in the midfield, with Rieko Ioane to start on the left wing, leaving one of either Mo’unga or Barrett, Damian McKenzie and Tupaea to miss out in the reserves.
Parsons, who played two tests for the All Blacks between 2014 and 2016, said the All Blacks are likely to pick a back three well-equipped to deal with aerial pressure likely to come from the Welsh.
He added that the selection of Ioane in the starting lineup is non-negotiable, and with Havili and Lienert-Brown in the midfield, Ioane is likely to be picked on the left wing.
Given his ability to cover both wing and centre, Parsons said Ioane’s presence in the starting team then makes it needless to carry a midfield cover on the bench, which he said paves the way for either McKenzie and either Mo’unga or Barrett to start on the pine.
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“I think Rieko has to be in there. If he’s not at centre, you’ve got to find a place for him in that starting XV, so I think he’ll be on the left wing, Anton at 13, and Davey back into 12,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“That’s the key, is Rieko, because he can move to 13, Anton can play 12, there’s no need to carry a midfielder [on the bench]. It’s not about performance, it’s not about skill set, it just doesn’t work for the 23 makeup.”
Hall, who has won three Super Rugby titles and two Super Rugby Aotearoa crowns with the Crusaders, echoed Parsons’ sentiments as he revealed his preferred backline reserves would be made up of the older Barrett brother and McKenzie.
“It’s a tough decision with that bench because we’ve got guys that can play 10 and 15, and Damo had an absolute blinder on the weekend,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“My preference, probably what they would do, is they’d probably go Beaudy and Damo on the bench.
“If you have Rieko on the wing, he’s got that ability to cover centre if they do go that way, but then it’s tough on Quinn Tupaea, who’s only put up his hand, coming off the bench in big moments, having that big steal [against the Springboks], he played well against Tonga in his debut and he played an outstanding game on the weekend.
“He’s doing everything he can to put himself in the best position to put himself in the 23 role.”
Parsons agreed with Hall’s prediction that Mo’unga will start ahead of Barrett – who is in line to play his 100th test if picked for the match in the Welsh capital on Sunday [NZT] – due to his ability to play both an attacking and traditional brand of rugby.
“I suppose it’s a different coaching group to when I was involved in the team, but I don’t think you lose your spot from injury,” he said.
“Richie was out of the team due to having a baby, so, potentially, he might come back into 10 and Beaudy slips back to the bench.
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“I always find this one so hard because they’re both playing so well. Because they are different players, the style of play and the game plan will be the deciding factor on who starts at 10.
“We know Beaudy’s flat and fast and will want to bring himself into the game, and that creates opportunities for others in and around him.
“Richie can probably go between both styles, which is probably his strength. He can go to that kicking game and running game because he’s got such hot feet.
“I tend to think that he won’t be punished for having to stay at home for the birth of his child, so he might get the 10 jersey back.”
The 29-year-old was also impressed by the efforts of young lock Tupou Vaa’i in the United States and is eager to see who starts at openside flanker between injury returnees Dalton Papalii and Sam Cane.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty full-strength team, but there are going to be some positions that are tough to call,” Hall said.
“I thought Tupou Vaa’i on the weekend was outstanding. Do you bring back Sam Cane in a starting role? I thought Dalton Papalii was great on the weekend.
” I think the two positions that are going to be interesting to see is Richie and Beaudy, see which direction they go in that, and then between Sevu and Will for that 14 jersey.
“I think Rieko’s going to come in at 11, but Will Jordan, who was outstanding on the weekend, the amount of work he does off the ball.
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“We talk around [Andrew] Kellaway and what he does for the Wallabies, it’s just amazing to see how much work off the ball Will does. He pops around rovers, he’s always there for chip-and-chases.
“If you see that one when Richie did that chip-and-chase [against the USA], Will was calling that in behind communicating that.
“It’s going to be interesting to see which direction they do go because Sevu, when given his opportunities, has played well, but I think, with Will, what he can do on attack, his ability off the ball, he’s probably deserving of that 14 role.”
Parsons, meanwhile, was similarly dazzled by both Vaa’i and debutant Josh Lord – both of whom he said may start alongside each other in the second row against Italy – as well as young loosehead prop Ethan de Groot against the USA Eagles.
“Tupou Vaa’i, I thought he was big in that first off-the-ruck carry, or giving the tips or the bombs out the back,” Parsons said.
“I thought Ethan de Groot was great, so it was more around increasing your shares as such, if we use that as an analogy, for opportunities against the bigger test nations.
“I just remember from my test debut, it didn’t matter the opposition, you’ve got a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, a lot of expectation when you wear that All Black jersey, but Josh Lord just looked so comfortable and just rolled out there just relaxed.
“I was just like, ‘Man, he has got a great mentality’, and you can see why he’s there at such a young age.”
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