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Ex-New Zealand representatives call for shakeup to All Blacks' back three

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

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Two former internationals have called for changes to the All Blacks‘ back three as New Zealand prepare to redeem themselves against the Springboks this weekend.

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Falling short in a 26-10 defeat to South Africa in Nelspruit last Saturday, the All Blacks have it all to play for at Ellis Park in Johannesburg in a few days’ time.

In the midst of a poor run of form which has seen them lose three straight tests, and five of their last six, the Kiwis are under immense pressure to deliver a successful result in their return clash against the Springboks.

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It has been widely reported that head coach Ian Foster relies on that much in order to keep his post at the helm on the national side, who run the risk of losing the Freedom Cup to the Springboks for the first time since 2009.

With all that in mind, former All Blacks hooker James Parsons and ex-Maori All Blacks lock Joe Wheeler are eager to see some alterations to New Zealand’s lineup in a bid to achieve some long-awaited success.

Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Parsons and Wheeler both pointed to the All Blacks’ outside back trio as an area they would like to see some of that change.

Parsons, who played two tests for the All Blacks between 2014 and 2016, said he wants to see Will Jordan moved from the wing to fullback, while Wheeler is keen for an entirely overhauled back three.

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Wheeler, a five-time Maori All Blacks representative, said a new-look outside back trio comprised of Jordan, Beauden Barrett and Jordie Barrett would go some way to negating the aerial threat posed by the Springboks, which proved troublesome for the All Blacks in Nelspruit.

“The high ball, that was our biggest concern and issue on the weekend, and, for me, I think our three best high ball exponents are Jordie, Will Jordan and Beauden Barrett,” Wheeler told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“We saw him [Beauden], obviously he got his legs taken out [from underneath] him [by Springboks wing Kurt-Lee Arendse], but he is fearless in the air. He gets up as good as anyone, and, for me, I’d love to see that as a back three.”

It’s unclear which of those players – all of whom are under injury and illness clouds – Wheeler would have in each of the three outside back positions, with all three players experienced at both wing and fullback.

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Primarily a first-five, Beauden Barrett has often been used as a fullback by Foster, and he was also utilised on the wing in the lead-up to and during the 2015 World Cup under former All Blacks boss Sir Steve Hansen.

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Younger brother Jordie has been a regular at fullback for the All Blacks since last year, but has played all across the backline throughout his career, having turned out at right wing, second-five and first-five in the international arena.

Jordan, meanwhile, has been used exclusively as a right wing at test level, but has proven himself as a standout fullback during his time with the Crusaders in Super Rugby.

Regardless, picking those three as New Zealand’s outside backs would result in the axing of Caleb Clarke, who made a powerful return to test rugby against the Springboks following a two-year hiatus.

Clarke was one of the few All Blacks who shone last weekend, but Wheeler told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that he would be comfortable with dropping the six-test wing in order to defuse South Africa’s high balls.

“I know Caleb Clarke was devastatingly good, but I just feel we need to try defuse that contestable kicking threat that South Africans have,” Wheeler said.

“To give us the best chance of doing that – yep, we can do a better job as forwards and block runners, but we also need out best high ball exponents coming in under that ball fearlessly and getting up and contesting for that ball rather than only half-arsed getting up.”

Wheeler added that moving Beauden Barrett, if fit, into the outside backs would enable Richie Mo’unga to come into the side at first-five.

“I’d actually like to see that back three and giving Richie Mo’unga a crack at 10, just to try show something a little bit different.

“Obviously that’s a little bit dependant on Beauden and Jordie, and I don’t know how bad Beauden’s neck is or how bad Jordie’s ankle is, but I’d like to see some changes in that area of our game.”

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Parsons labelled Jordan as New Zealand’s “biggest attacking weapon” and said the 24-year-old would flourish if given the opportunity to play at fullback rather than on the wing.

“Just the more opportunity with time with ball in his hand, the moments he has with little inside balls in the opportunities he’s had, he’s been pretty electric, so giving him more opportunity with ball in hand could be really beneficial to the stuff we’re talking about,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“What makes us great at our game is our instinctive, off-the-cuff, unstructured [play], and he’s shown us all year he’s probably the best at it.”

Picking Jordan at fullback would see Jordie Barrett axed or moved into another position, but Parsons is eager for the 40-test international to remain in the starting lineup.

“I do think Jordie has to be there somewhere because he’s got aspects of his games that others don’t,” Parsons said.

“It’s his height and he’s shown that he can do it on the wing, it’s just somehow this may just be the change that creates opportunity for Will Jordan, and also we can really use the best out of Jordie Barrett.”

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