The dawn of the new Super Rugby season, as always, brings with it plenty of speculation about which uncapped players could be in line to make the step up to the All Blacks.
Usually those bolters, as they are referred to, tend to be previously unheralded rookies in their first seasons of Super Rugby who quickly make their mark on that stage.
Every year since 2012, there always been at least one player who has been plucked from Super Rugby to make their All Blacks debut at the first time of asking.
More often than not, those players tend to bring with them an element of surprise about their selections – those such as Tupou Vaa’i (2020), Shannon Frizell, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Brett Cameron (all 2018) have fit those bills in recent seasons.
There are others, though, who make the All Blacks for the first time after at least a few years finding their feet at Super Rugby level.
It has been similarly common to see those types of players – such as Alex Hodgman (2020), Angus Ta’avao, Jackson Hemopo, Gareth Evans and Matt Proctor (all 2018) – elevated to test rugby over the past fews.
This year is expected to be no different, as former Blues hooker James Parsons and Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall alluded to on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
When asked which players they see as potential bolters for the season ahead, Hall pinpointed current Blues hooker Kurt Eklund as someone who could push through the ranks this year.
By no means a fresh, young talent at the age of 29, Eklund fits the mould of Hodgman, Ta’avao, Hemopo, Evans and Proctor – someone who has floated around the professional rugby scene for some time now but could be set for a test rugby breakthrough.
That’s how Hall sees it, as he expects Eklund – who is entering his just second season with the Blues despite having played provincial rugby since 2015 – to build on his impressive campaign last year.
“I wouldn’t say he’s a rookie, but I thought Kurt Eklund would be a bolter for me,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“With big Jip [Parsons] moving aside and not being there anymore, he’s going to get a lot more game time in that hooker position.
“Luteru Tolai’s there as well, and Ray Niuia’s there as well, but I think for a guy who’s probably going to play a lot of rugby, probably in a position where there could be an opportunity for someone that they [the All Blacks] might want to bring in.
“Obviously Asafo Aumua is there and Liam Coltman’s been in and around there as well… But, Kurt Eklund played really well last year and looking forward to seeing how he goes moving forward with Jip not being there.”
As the new Super Rugby Aotearoa season looms large on the horizon, a former All Black has named a 'Hype XV' made up of players to take note of over the coming weeks. #SuperRugbyAotearoa https://t.co/nwGOic1rFx
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 23, 2021
Starring as the Blues’ premier hooker throughout much of the season, Eklund garnered 12 appearances for the Blues in his maiden Super Rugby campaign, and earned representative honours for his robust performances.
“The fact that he was New Zealand Maori last year and he was picked in the North vs South, so Kurt Eklund would probably be [my bolter pick],” Hall opined.
Although Parsons agreed with Hall’s sentiments about Eklund, the two-test All Black couldn’t look past his fellow panellist and ex-Blues and North Harbour teammate as his bolter pick.
Since moving south from the Blues to the Crusaders in 2017, Hall has become a central figure for the Christchurch franchise during their run of four straight Super Rugby titles upon his arrival.
The 29-year-old started in all three finals between 2017 and 2019, and started in five of the Crusaders’ seven Super Rugby Aotearoa matches last year.
In that time, he has kept one-test All Black Mitchell Drummond out of the starting lineup on many occasions, and has formed solid partnership with star first-five Richie Mo’unga.
The Crusaders are firm favourites to clinch a fifth straight title, but, in the eyes of two Super Rugby stalwarts, they won't go through the season unchallenged. #SuperRugbyAotearoa https://t.co/zrgQxX0WQk
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 23, 2021
As such, Hall has earned six caps for the Maori All Blacks, making his debut for the side against the British and Irish Lions four years ago, and was called into the All Blacks squad for their test against Japan in 2018.
While he missed out on a test debut in Tokyo, with Drummond and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi used instead, Parsons said the absence of TJ Perenara, who is on sabbatical in the Top League, could open the door for Hall to win his first cap.
“Obviously not a rookie, as such, but me old mate over here, I’m going to just give him a bit of a pump up, because he’s been knocking on the door for a while and there’s a real No. 9 spot open,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“There’s a couple of young boys here, obviously Folau Fakatava, but, four titles, been knocking on the door, so I’m going to say Bryn Hall’s my bolter to get into the ABs and get a test cap.”
While appreciative of Parsons’ prediction, Hall remained coy on how he sees his All Blacks selection prospects.
“[I’ll] keep chipping away and see what happens,” he said.
All Blacks ‘bolters’ who were picked in the same year of their Super Rugby debut since 2012
* Aumua debuted for the All Blacks with no Super Rugby experience and only made his Hurricanes debut in 2018.
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