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John Kirwan names his first choice All Black team 'cleaning house' of Crusaders players

By Sam Smith
(Photos by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images and Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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Former All Black wing John Kirwan has shared his first choice All Blacks lineup for 2022 which includes a number of changes for the side that lost to France in Paris last November.

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Speaking on Sky Sport NZ’s The Breakdown, Kirwan offered up his team for discussion based on early Super Rugby Pacific form.

Kirwan made sweeping changes and removed all but one Crusaders player out of the All Black backline, with Richie Mo’unga, David Havili, George Bridge and Sevu Reece all missing out. Of the omissions, only Havili was able to secure a bench spot.

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Only one Crusader, the in-form Will Jordan, found a place on the right wing while the Blues combination of Beauden Barrett, Caleb Clarke, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Rieko Ioane took the 10-11-12-13 roles.

Aaron Smith starts at halfback while Hurricanes second five-slash-fullback Jordie Barrett retained his place in the 15 jersey.

Finlay Christie was selected to back up Smith on the bench, while Damian McKenzie returned to play a utility role along with Havili.

Despite Joe Moody’s season-ending injury being confirmed today, Kirwan already made the decision to go with his Crusaders teammate George Bower as the starting loosehead prop alongside Codie Taylor and Ofa Tuungafasi in the front row.

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The established pair of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick were unsurprisingly selected to pack down at lock but in a big omission, Scott Barrett was unable to secure a position on the bench. Instead, Ethan Blackadder and Tupou Vaa’i are to provide loose forward/lock cover.

In the loose forwards, Blues captain Dalton Papalii was named to start at blindside in the 6 jersey, joining Sam Cane at 7 and Ardie Savea No 8 respectively. Moving Papalii to 6 put three opensides across the All Black back row.

“Let’s start with the Dalton Papalii one,” panelist Jeff Wilson said.

“You have been forever not wanting to play guys out of position, he’s an openside flanker.

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“So why in the world have you taken a guy that you’ve already said is always a seven and you’ve decided to move him to 6?

“Are we looking for specialists or can Dalton Papalii be an international six?”

Former All Black No 8 Stephen Bates backed Papalii to give the role a crack, but said that he is currently the best New Zealand has at openside, based on his form with the Blues this year.

“I think he can be an international seven, he’s the best seven in the country at the moment, playing the best rugby,” Bates responded.

“I think Dalton can play 6 at a pinch, great bench player as well, but I think he’s best position is 7.”

Kirwan’s thinking around Papalii at six centred around having an enforcer in the role like former All Black Jerome Kaino but that would put pressure on the All Blacks set piece.

“For the last 257 days of doing this show we’ve been saying we need a Jerome Kaino, we need a 6 that is going to smash people,” Kirwan said.

“Someone who is going to work really hard and carry the ball hard.”

Wilson highlighted that having Papalii at blindside would make things difficult for the All Blacks at lineout time, to which Bates agreed.

“I will go with Jeff here, the one thing you are doing there is putting a lot of pressure on Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick to win lineouts. I know Ardie jumps occasionally, Sam Cane jumped a little bit this week, and Dalton jumps occasionally,” he said.

“But a lot of blindside flankers these days in international rugby, remember who won the World Cup, are big tall men.”

John Kirwan’s early 2022 All Blacks side:

1. George Bower
2. Codie Taylor
3. Ofa Tuungafasi
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Sam Whitelock
6. Dalton Papalii
7. Sam Cane
8. Ardie Savea
9. Aaron Smith
10. Beauden Barrett
11. Caleb Clarke
12. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
13. Rieko Ioane
14. Will Jordan
15. Jordie Barrett

Reserves

16. Samisoni Taukei’aho
17. Angus Ta’avao
18. TBA
19. Ethan Blackadder
20. Tupou Vaa’i
21. Findlay Christie
22. David Havili
23. Damian McKenzie

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