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Justin Marshall identifies two positions the All Blacks are lacking depth in

By Ned Lester
Rieko Ioane of the All Blacks runs through drills with Jordie Barrett and Beauden Barrett during a New Zealand All Blacks training session at Mt Smart Stadium on June 30, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Talent depth will always be a key question emerging from a Rugby World Cup year and the subsequent player exodus, but not something that the All Blacks traditionally have all that much trouble with. While there’s often a budding superstar ready to make that jump, there are two positions that have former All Black Justin Marshall concerned in 2024.

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The experience that departed New Zealand following the World Cup was inevitably a dramatic loss; not just core members of the on-field trusted performers unit but the off-field brains trust as well.

Players like Sam Whitelock and Aaron Smith were stalwarts in the All Blacks for well over a decade and boast significant cap records to their names along with world titles and more illustrious individual and team accomplishments.

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Whitelock and his traditional locking partner Brodie Retallick vacating a second row in which they had mortgages on for so long has left concerns over how prepared the next generation of New Zealand’s locking talent is for the bright lights of the international arena.

Similarly, at halfback, Smith outperformed the advances of many young talented No. 9s who have since found homes in France and Japan.

The injury to Hurricanes’ young gun Cam Roigard threw more concern over the state of the All Blacks No. 9 jersey in the post-Smith era, but Marshall, someone who knows all about that jersey, dismissed those concerns, instead identifying two other positions that he sees a dangerous lack of depth in.

“I don’t feel that we’ve got massive depth, to a degree, in our flyhalf area,” Marshall told Newstalk ZB.

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“10 is a jersey that has been dominated to a degree, in the last decade, by Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga. There’s been little intros and opportunities for the likes of Damian McKenzie but they’ve been few and far between. Stephen Perofeta was messed around by Ian Foster.

“Below those two, there’s been no real progress.”

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The impending return of Beauden Barrett offers plenty of questions in regards to his potential role in an All Blacks setup. Meanwhile, within Super Rugby Pacific, the Highlanders have a former Welsh international running their attack, the Crusaders are yet to field their best No. 10 but he’s also leaving at the end of the year, and the Hurricanes have been performing exceptionally well with the steady hand and reliability of one-time All Black Brett Cameron.

Marshall’s second position of concern could be found just outside the first receiver.

“Another area that does concern me, to a degree, is centre. We’ve had to switch a winger, a world-class winger, probably one of the fastest in the world, into centre because we never replaced Conrad Smith.

“Jack Godhue with his injury problems was seen as being possibly that replacement. But, to that end, there’s been nobody else that’s come through and been absolutely devastating.

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“I thought possibly Leicester Fainga’anuku could have been that answer, but obviously he’s moved on too.

“Those two positions would be the two I’d be most concerned about, 10 and 13, that we don’t have enough depth in those jerseys; not that we don’t have quality players that under Scott Robertson could come in and realize their true potential internationally.”

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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