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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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