2021 might just be the defining season for Brad Weber in terms of how far higher up the ranks he goes on these shores.
It was no easy decision to stay in New Zealand for the seven-test All Black. Overseas offers were lucrative, but so too is the lure of unfinished business.
That may be one of the obvious factors behind Brad Weber inking his signature for another year with the Chiefs, and in doing so, remaining a viable All Blacks candidate for at least one more season.
There is plenty of unfinished business for Weber, particularly in Super Rugby as the Chiefs search for the title that has eluded them since 2013, and it’s this particular environment that Weber admits to being most comfortable in.
“I had some pretty decent offers overseas so I had to really weigh up what I wanted to do”, Weber told RugbyPass this week, “it took a bit of time and a bit of thinking but this is my happy place here at the Chiefs and as always it will be about me fitting in and bringing the spark where I can”.
Being a leader and bringing spark to the Chiefs environment is something that the 29-year-old is well used to at this point, but happiness beyond rugby has always been the other key driver.
A laid back, popular character within the Chiefs, Weber has tried his hand at many things throughout his time. From podcasting to golf, Weber enjoys spending his offseason travelling with friends, and more recently tried his hand at becoming a budding DJ thanks to his love of music.
The 29-year old has never lost that crucial ability to switch off from the pressures of being a professional rugby player. It’s a wholesome and potentially deliberate ploy that Weber utilizes while plying his trade in a professional career that hasn’t been smoothly traversed.
Since capturing national attention in 2014, Weber’s development into one of New Zealand’s premier scrum-halves has been obvious for all to see. But after making his All Blacks debut in 2015 against Samoa, it would be another four years until Weber would pull on the black jersey again.
During that period spanning an entire World Cup cycle, Weber was consistently one of the best in his position throughout Super Rugby but cracking into the All Blacks and slotting in behind Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara proved difficult.
Frustration grew for Weber over successive seasons, leading to the infamous conversation with then All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster a year out from the 2019 World Cup. It was the moment where Weber finally got a chance to ask serious questions about why he hadn’t been selected in the squad more regularly and why he had been overlooked in favor of others.
“I let him (Foster) know what my thinking was in terms of my plan to try and get to the All Blacks” Weber told Sky Sport in October 2019, “I didn’t want to die wondering and we always had a good line of communication so I took him up on his offer to call him any time”.
Consistency of skillset around passing and kicking were the key work ons for Weber ahead of the 2019 season, a season that was shaping up to be Weber’s last big crack at the black jersey.
Speed around the field has always been the obvious point of difference Weber holds over others in his position, but it’s also his key eye for the smallest of gaps in and around the breakdown which saw him become a fan favorite early on.
The All Blacks wanted to see the occasional erratic pass and kick firmly extinguished from his game. When that started to happen, Weber was rewarded with All Black selection for the World Cup in Japan and has since amassed a further six caps.
Then came the end to a difficult 2020 season, and the decision over what to do when his existing contract expired. The decision was to extend for another year, which brings us to the here and now.
With TJ Perenara offshore for the next little while, many would assume that Weber will get another chance to prove himself in the All Blacks, not just as a third string option, but potentially as a genuine test match starter.
The challenge for Weber is that he is by no means alone in this race, and from a purely speculatory point of view, many may argue that the time could have come and gone.
Crusaders pair Bryn Hall and Mitchell Drummond both have viable arguments for a shot in the All Blacks, as does rising Blues talent Finlay Christie.
Weber might have the experience and knowledge of the systems under Ian Foster and co, but his form heading into 2021 is also far off where it needs to be when contrasted against the likes of Hall and Drummond in particular.
In his defence, Weber did play in more than a handful of matches where the forwards in front of him didn’t have the greatest of fortunes throughout last season, particularly when wearing the Chiefs strip, but still time feels very much of the essence when you stop to look at some of the talent coming through.
Future prospects will already be being scouted as the next phase of halfbacks to come through the system, likely taking the same path as Weber did through the All Blacks setup in the first instance, the likes of Xavier Roe and Folau Fakatava for example.
Having just signed on for one more year, it will be interesting to see how Weber fairs this season with this reality in the minds of the All Blacks selectors.
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