'You get on the plane and go and sign him': The solution to All Blacks depth issue
There are only 18 tests to go until the 2023 Rugby World Cup for the All Blacks to settle on their best XV and former All Black John Kirwan insists that depth at first five needs to be addressed immediately.
The All Blacks number 10 spot has two incumbents in Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga seemingly miles ahead of the rest. If one of these players is injured, there are limited options currently playing in New Zealand.
Josh Ioane is internationally capped, and Bryn Gatland has been in strong form for the Chiefs while Stephen Perofeta is another who is playing well for the Blues. However, all of these players have very little or no test experience.
In such a pivotal position, lack of experience in big moments can prove incredibly difficult to handle.
Speaking on Sky Sport NZ’s The Breakdown, Kirwan was frank when discussing the All Blacks needs surrounding their depth at first five and implored New Zealand Rugby to secure the services of Damian McKenzie immediately.
“He has got to be signed,” he said of the 27-year-old former Chief who is currently playing in Japan with Suntory Sungoliath.
“If you are Ian Foster, you get on the plane and go and sign him. He is fundamental to us winning the next World Cup.
“I still think he is the best off the bench player late in a test match ever. We totally missed him in the 2019 World Cup game against Japan.”
Damian McKenzie has performed exceptionally well for the All Blacks in the past, but due to being contracted in Japan, it is unclear when he will be available for selection.
McKenzie’s ability to cover two positions and having test experience in both. Ensures he is the likely selection as the third fly half option when he returns to New Zealand and becomes available.
In relation to the midfield outside of the 10, the general consensus seems to be Rieko Ioane has done enough to hold on to his 13 positions. He was one of the only strong performers on the All Blacks end of year tour last season and has been in great form for the Blues this season.
However, who joins Ioane in the midfield is open for debate with a number of strong candidates. Quinn Tupaea has a solid frame, which is generally how the All Blacks like to deploy their no.12.
David Havili is another who performed well at times last season before being found lacking against a very physical South African side. Due to this lack of size, Havili may find he is out of favour for the All Blacks number 12 jersey and may be better utilised as a utility option.
Jack Goodhue is back from a long injury lay off and may find himself utilised in the All Blacks second five role. However, he needs to find some form with the Crusaders before being selected.
Kirwan believes Roger Tuivasa-Sheck may be the man for the job, asking for the former NRL star to be ‘fast tracked’ into the All Blacks.
His strength over the gainline and offloading ability in combination with his deft footwork make him a very attractive option to fill the contested All Blacks number 12 jersey.
“We need to fast track him because he has X-factor. I do not know if he can make the next level, but everything I have seen, I believe he is a game changer,” he said.
“With the way we currently play we need game changers at the next level, we need X-factor.
“We have had them right across the board, I think the opposition Ireland, England and France are absolutely improved and we are going to have to have some X-factor and that is Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.”