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'He's a winger talking about loose forwards': Former All Black No 8 rejects benching Savea

By Ned Lester
All Blacks coach Ian Foster (L) with Ardie Savea of the All Blacks (C) and Beauden Barrett of the All Blacks (R) during the first Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Australian Wallabies at Eden Park on August 07, 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

A hot take was delivered on The Breakdown this week when former All Black Jeff Wilson claimed he would shift Ardie Savea to the All Blacks bench to make way for Luke Jacobson.

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Savea won All Blacks Player of the Year in 2022 and there was considerable objection online when the No 8 was left out of the World Player of the Year nominees as well as the World Rugby Dream Team.

For many, Savea’s name would be the first on the team sheet. Wilson though preferred the form of Jacobson, a standout for the Chiefs as the Waikato Super Rugby Pacific team went nearly undefeated in 2023.

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While boasting 60 All Blacks appearances, Wilson’s credentials were called into question by former All Black No 8 Murray Mexted.

“I think he’s a winger talking about loose forwards,” Mexted told The Platform. “It’s interesting isn’t it, Jeff was an outstanding rugby player and has now become a fantastic colour commentator and I guess it’s provocative.

“He’s talking about a position that he’s not an expert in, he’s never played in. He was a great finisher and try scorer, and actually quite a creative finisher as well. But I don’t think he knows the art of loose forwards, If you ask him what the role of the six and the seven and the eight were – and it’s not just Jeff, it’s any commentator that played in the outside backs – they don’t necessarily know about the role of those various loose forward positions.

“I do know about that role and I know Ardie Savea.

“By the way, the role of the openside flanker and the No 8 is to retain the possession when we’ve got it and regain possession when the opposition’s got it, so you’ve actually got to be a bit of a hunter and gatherer. You’ve got to be targeting that ball and you’ve got to make sure we keep it.

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“Now, Ardie’s great in that area of the game. Sam Cane is fantastic as well and I actually think Blackadder, that’s his best position because he’s a hunter and a gatherer as well. Those guys stand out.

“We’ve got plenty of open-side flankers, we haven’t got too many No 8s and that’s where I see a problem because when you play the big boys, and the Rugby Championship is the big boys most of the time, but certainly at the World Cup when you play teams like England and France and even Ireland these days, they have got at least three, often four players who are capable of winning the ball in the air.

“At the moment, with playing Ardie at No 8, we need a very big and dominant blindside flanker who can join Whitelock and Retallick and Barrett – Barrett also, I think would be an outstanding blindside flanker.

“The challenge is to get enough people that can win the ball in the air.”

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The All Blacks’ first Test of the year is on July 9 and While Ian Foster has retained his core group where possible, new faces may well shake up the matchday 23.

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The No 6 jersey in particular has been the topic of much debate, with the lineout issues Mexted alluded to of primary concern ahead of the World Cup. Forwards coach Jason Ryan hinted during the squad announcement that Shannon Frizzel is the top option and does offer a strong lineout option having played at lock this season for the Highlanders.

Scott Barrett’s ability to play blindside flanker is hotly debated also, the Crusaders captain offers plenty of height and lineout nous but sceptics point to the 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final as well as a lack of experience defending from the side of the scrum as indicators that he is best to stick to lock.

Other options are the versatile Luke Jacobson or a potential debut for fellow Chief Samipeni Finau.

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2 Comments
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Otagoman II 383 days ago

Wondering if the author has been reading the youtube comments on Mexted's interview with Devlin?

B
Barry 384 days ago

Mexted just put you in your place Goldie! ....fully deserved ! 😏

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Shaylen 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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