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Have the All Blacks XV if you like, but make it New Zealand's genuine second XV

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

There has to be a better way of navigating the journey from out of provincial and franchise rugby and into the test arena.


I’m not sure the newly-minted All Blacks XV is it. Not least because of the elite players who aren’t in it.

What’s the point of Tupou Vaa’i, Stephen Perofeta, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Folau Fakatava and others traipsing round with the All Blacks but rarely playing?

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Why do we hand test caps out to guys we clearly aren’t making a long term investment in?

Super Rugby and the NPC don’t appear fit for purpose. Once they were stepping stones to higher honours; now? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

Take Tom Christie. Not the most brilliant player in the world, sure, but there’s no doubt he helps the Crusaders and Canterbury win rugby matches.

You’d think that might say something about Christie and suggest he has or does something special, but clearly the man is so far down the national pecking order it isn’t funny.


I despair for the situation Pita Gus Sowakula finds himself in. Just as I wonder why Luke Jacobson was an All Black for a while, if he’s only good enough for the virtual scrapheap now?

It’s clear that factors other than actual form determine selections. After all, Tuivasa-Sheck has done nothing in rugby to merit All Blacks recognition.

What’s Akira Ioane ever won or ever proved on the big stage? And yet he’s a staple in the national side.

I’m not against the All Blacks XV concept. But if it tells us anything, it’s that the leap from Super and NPC footy is obviously seen as too great.


We clearly need a further tier of football from which to evaluate players.

So if we’re going to have the All Blacks XV, then let’s populate it with people who are actually the next cabs off the rank.

Can’t trust Vaa’i, Perofeta, Tuivasa-Sheck and Fakatava to play in a meaningful test match? Then put them in the All Blacks XV.

Think Sowakula has some areas he needs to develop before he can become a regular All Black? Then play him in that team too.

All I see is muddled thinking. All I see is caps and contracts handed out with no strategy behind them. All I see is an All Blacks XV squad made up of guys on their way out of the national frame or youngsters not worthy of being in it yet.


Among the few exceptions is Wellington hooker Asafo Aumua, who aptly illustrates some of my points.

He was once one of those non-playing members of the All Blacks squad and is now, at least to my eye, one of the absolute stand-out performers in the NPC. But, because you can’t trust provincial form and because that competition has become increasingly participatory, the best Aumua can manage is a spot in the All Blacks XV side.

Talent is our only real resource here. Rugby in New Zealand isn’t a game of great financial clout and fan engagement is hardly at an all-time high either.

But we do still produce rugby players of some ability; we just aren’t, for whatever reason, very good at managing or developing them.

Guys show promise but rarely seem to improve, partly because we don’t expose them to situations where they are asked to. They either play at a level that’s no real challenge for them or they sit in the stands in their All Blacks blazer and never play.

So have the All Blacks XV if you like, but make it New Zealand’s genuine second XV.

Beef up their schedule and send them on 10 or 12-match tours against decent opposition with Saturday and Wednesday matches, because they’re not learning or achieving anything in the NPC.

At the same time, pare back the All Blacks. Pick less apprentices who are only there to hold tackle bags. Heck, just pick less blokes in general, if they’re only destined for a couple of caps.

That’ll at least help the wage bill, if nothing else.

I think what’s been done to Sowakula here is a disgrace, but what makes it worse is that he’s hardly the first player from the Pacific Islands who we’ve dangled a black jersey in front of and then discarded.

Overall, we have to treat and nurture our talent far better if we expect it to stay in the country.


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