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How all five halfbacks vying for All Blacks spots could end up facing Ireland

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Only five days remain until the first All Blacks squad of the year is unveiled, and there is no shortage of debate as to which players will make the cut in Ian Foster’s side.

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36 players are expected to be named next Monday ahead of the upcoming three-test series between the All Blacks and Ireland, but few have their places in on the squad list cemented.

That much is particularly true at halfback, where there are five genuine contenders for All Blacks selection vying for just three spots in the New Zealand national squad.

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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 17
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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 17

It means any two of either Aaron Smith, Finlay Christie, Brad Weber, TJ Perenara and Folau Fakatava – all of whom are considered frontrunners for inclusion in Foster’s squad – will miss out.

So tight are the margins between all of those five players that Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall struggled to separate them while picking his All Blacks squad on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

After plenty of thought and discussion, Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that it was nigh on impossible to exclude any of those players from New Zealand’s halfback contingent due to their form and various skillsets.

“I’ve been having that many headaches and we’ve had that many chats within our team, just in general with the halfbacks that you take, I just think they must have to select four,” Hall said.

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“I’m not too sure Nuggy [Aaron Smith] is out for [with his groin injury], but you’ve obviously got Nuggy, you start with Nuggy, and then you just can’t go past Finlay Christie because he’s been the form halfback and the biggest part of that Blues team with Beaudy [Beauden Barrett].

“Then you’ve got Folau who just adds something completely different, but then you’ve got Brad and TJ that are incumbents in that side and haven’t done anything to not get picked.”

However, while two of the aforementioned players are bound to be excluded from the national squad, former All Blacks hooker James Parsons outlined how all five halfbacks could still yet feature against Ireland.

Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that the All Blacks selectors are likely to have a plan in place to get all of Smith, Christie, Weber, Perenara and Fakatava game time against the Irish, although not all of them will do so for the All Blacks.

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Instead, Parsons suggested that the All Blacks may opt to exclude Perenara and Weber in a bid to make them available for the Maori All Blacks, who will host Ireland in two mid-week matches during their tour of New Zealand.

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In doing so, both players would still get to face the Irish, as would Smith, Christie and Fakatava, in what Parsons effectively described as a trial for Rugby Championship selection in August and September.

“Brad and TJ, they’re both eligible for the Maori,” Parsons, the former two-test front rower, told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“That potentially could play against them because they know they’re going to get some rugby and it could be an all-out, who of the best three, out of this series, will get the nod for the Rugby Championship?

“I don’t know, but let’s not forget those mid-week [Maori All Blacks tests]. That’s an option to get all five out there and playing off for the three for the Rugby Championship.

“I think they’ll [the All Blacks selectors] have a plan around all five of getting them rugby, I feel, and that’s why the two tests against the Maori is crucial for a number of players, to be honest.

“I think all five are going to be factored into playing minutes. I don’t know how that looks. Do they carry an extra because of Aaron’s injury?

“Not too sure, but all five are going to get an opportunity against Ireland to stake their claim for the Rugby Championship. I think that series provides an opportunity for everyone to get out there playing.”

While Parsons’ theory has its merits, it didn’t help Hall make a final decision as to which player would accompany Smith and Christie as the third halfback in his All Blacks squad.

“If I had to make a call, I’d go – based on form – I’d go Aaron Smith, Finlay Christie, and I’m going to go Folau, but I think either TJ or Brad, if there’s a few injuries,” the Maori All Blacks representative said.

“Actually, I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m going to go  Aaron Smith, and Finlay Christie, and I’m leaving the third one because I seriously can’t choose.”

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