All Blacks surprise with two new midfield options
Many fans expected to get a look at one new midfield option for the All Blacks on Saturday night. Few realised they’d get a glance at a second.
While Quinn Tupaea was somewhat of an unexpected call-up to the New Zealand national side, being whisked away from the Maori All Blacks, the 22-year-old was immediately thrust into action by the selectors and was named in the No 12 jersey for Saturday night’s test with Tonga.
The Chiefs midfielder looked relatively comfortable outside Richie Mo’unga and formed a strong partnership with regular All Blacks Rieko Ioane. His carrying game was strong, his passing was accurate and his decision-making was mature – choosing to hold onto the ball instead of throwing the miracle offload that can so often be utilised by excited, inexperienced players.
Following the match, Ian Foster said was pleased with the performance of the young midfielder, as well as the other three All Blacks debutants – but also pointed out that Tupaea had learnt some harsh lessons on the field against a Tongan team that were more than welcoming of players running directly at them.
“I thought that the four guys who played their first test should be pretty proud of what they did,” Foster said.
“[Tupaea] got smacked early, I think he realised after 10 minutes that maybe it might be better to go for a weak shoulder than t-bone. But he stayed in the game.”
Tupaea is one of just two players in the squad to have regularly played in the inside centre role throughout Super Rugby this year. The other is Crusaders utility David Havili, who wasn’t able to train fully during the week which made it an easy decision for Foster to hand Tupaea his test debut.
Havili, however, will be fit and firing ahead of next weekend’s game against Fiji and is expected to be named at No 12 for the match. With one final game in the July series, Havili will have to put in a confident performance to prevent Tupaea from taking back the jersey for the last match against Fiji.
That’s assuming, of course, that Foster doesn’t make a more left-field call on the second five-eighth role.
Anton Lienert-Brown, who’s currently recovering from minor surgery, has regularly featured at No 12 for the All Blacks in the past but does look more at home at outside centre.
The #AllBlacks have a slew of fullback options at their disposal but they're not so blessed in the midfield. Could the selectors kill two birds with one stone by shifting one of their brightest talents? #NZLvTON
?? Gregor Paulhttps://t.co/3lXtbuzaCf
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) July 3, 2021
Then there’s the man who replaced Tupaea after 63 minutes, Jordie Barrett.
The youngest Barrett brother has become adept at slotting in all over the All Blacks backline and had featured at fullback, on the wing and at first five prior to Saturday’s match but looms as a potential long-term option in the No 12 jersey.
Foster acknowledged given the injuries to Lienert-Brown and Braydon Ennor, who was forced to pull out from the squad for the July matches, Barrett was the obvious man to cover the midfield.
“We’ve got a couple of midfielders down and so with David and Anton out, Jordie was always going to be the person to cover and it was just the sub decision that we made,” Foster said after the match. “But he trained in a few positions during the week.”
The Barrett trio of Beauden, Scott and Jordie all have multiple strings to their bows. Alongside Jordie’s flitting across the backline, Beauden has played at first five and fullback for the All Blacks while second-rower Scott has filled in on the blindside flank.
Scott Barrett isn’t planning on slotting in anywhere else around the park, however, but did have one more positional suggestion for his younger brother.
“I think the next thing for him will be lock,” Barrett joked on Sunday. “I’m just focussing on playing lock and if they call upon me at 6 then [he’ll jump in].”
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