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Frank Bunce: All Blacks midfield on song but time for change in outside backs

By Ned Lester
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Former centre Frank Bunce has thrown in his two cents on the All Blacks backline debate, naming his preferred midfield combination and outside backs for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Bunce’s area of expertise – the midfield where he won 55 caps – has been chopped and changed throughout Ian Foster’s tenure as head coach.


Some of the changes have been purely selection based with Jordie Barrett and David Havili tussling for the No12 jersey, while the likes of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Braydon Ennor look to get a foot in the door.

Other changes have been forced by injury. Quinn Tupaea is out for nine months, and Havili has missed a number of games due to Covid and concussion protocols. All this while Anton Lienart-Brown re-entered the fray and Jack Goodhue was cruelly ruled out before he could even get a sniff of the test arena again.

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“I’d go Jordie and Rieko,” Bunce told SENZ’s The Run Home when asked what All Blacks midfield partnership he would prefer. “He [Barrett] has pretty much said all along he wants to be a twelve and he has come in and proven it. He’s got everything, he does add a little bit of X-factor. He has got the physicality, he’s got all the skills: he can kick, he can pass, he can tackle.

“For my mind, he has been the best No12 that we have had for a little while and Rieko… I just still don’t think there is anyone as an outside centre that is better than him. I don’t know who we might change him with (so) for me those two would be my top midfielders.”


Prior to Barrett’s midfield Test debut against the Wallabies, Havili had been the preferred option at second five and Joe Schmidt’s attacking game was beginning to take shape, utilising Havili’s kicking game – a skillset he developed during his time at full-back.

While Havili’s accuracy on the boot was at the time considered a key point of difference amongst his fellow No12s, Barrett’s full-back skillset also translated well to Schmidt’s vision for the midfield. With it came a much larger frame capable of a crash-and-bash game that offered yet another string to Schmidt’s bow.


As for the outside backs, Bunce was of the impression it was time for a changing of the guard at full-back. “Beaudy (Beauden Barrett) is not playing the game that we know he can at the moment,” Bunce continued. “To be honest, I would prefer Will Jordan to play full-back.

“He is just more in the game (there); he knows when to inject himself, he has got good pace… he is kind of playing like Beaudy was a couple of years back. So I think he is actually a better option at 15 than Beauden at the moment.

“Wings… Mark Telea turned up and he has played some great games as well. So, to be honest, I’d pick Mark Telea after the last two games, and then we have got any number of other wings.”


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Greg 574 days ago

Agree with Frank. It amazes me to see the Rieko detractors persist, no matter how many breaks he makes, how many tries he scores, how many tries his defence saves. It'd be interesting to ask other international centres, like Am for instance, whom he left for dead, who they'd rather mark - a competent carthorse like ALB, or the size, speed and abrasiveness of Reiko. He's our X factor, and his developing combo with Jordie is so exciting, will be in its prime at the RWC, injury and selection sanity allowing. And yes, Jordan has to be fullback - Professor Smithy called him the best broken field runner since Cullen. And he can kick, take the high ball and tackle. So easy! Talea, Jordan, Clarke (still inexperienced but what a threat), and Beaudy the perfect cover on the bench.

Charlie 574 days ago

Poor Beaudy is suffering the demise of all great players under foster - a slow and painful death.. prior to foster as Head Coach he was the Worlds Best, now doesn't even make the list ..

Shayne 574 days ago

Reiko can't read center, he's had plenty of time he needs to be on wing Havili or even barrett would do better job creating opportunities.

Shayne 574 days ago


Ian 575 days ago

For once I agree with the talking head. The midfield has looked better since Jordie Barrett has switched to 12. Will Jordan should be at 15. The question then is which wings are in form 11 months time.
Beauden isn't playing as well as he has in the past and perhaps should be used as the utility off the bench, although Havilli is an alternative for that role.

Euan 575 days ago

Why doesn't he say the obvious, that Caleb Clarke on the left wing is the ABs main defense liability. He simply hasn't a clue, and is awol when the attacks come, as England discovered. Yet, selectors are treating him as some holy icon.

Ruby 575 days ago

We need at least one winger who can catch and kick, it means that the Fullback isn't essentially covering the backfield by themself, having a Fullback option on the Wing is a huge advantage, it's why the ABs were so effective with Ben Smith, Cory Jane, Nehe Milner-Skudder etc on the wing.

The correct Outside Back set up (with current All Blacks) is Mark Telea on the left, Will Jordan on the right and Beauden at Fullback, all 3 are quality under the high ball which will likely be crucial at the World Cup, Sevu can't catch and Clarke refuses to get his inner-ear checked out to see why his balance is so bad, I don't think I've seen a game where he doesn't randomly fall over, it's like someone removed the studs from his boots.

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