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Leon MacDonald on the Super semi-finals' impact on All Blacks selection

By Ned Lester
Wallace Sititi of the Chiefs at training. Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images

The Super Rugby Pacific semi-finals ignited more spirited debate over All Blacks selections, with Chiefs young gun Wallace Sititi in particular winning plenty of fan votes after a monstrous performance.

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The 21-year-old’s effort came as no surprise to Chiefs fans, who have witnessed world-class performances from Sititi week in, week out in 2024.

The selection debate also shifted with the news of Samisoni Taukei’aho’s Achilles injury, presumably freeing up a spot at hooker within the soon-to-be-named 32-man All Blacks squad.

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Also strong in a losing effort for the Hurricanes were All Blacks hopefuls Isaia Walker-Leawere, Peter Lakai and Billy Proctor.

Luckily for intrigued fans, All Blacks attack coach Leon MacDonald offered some insight into how the weekend’s performances had gone down in the eyes of selectors. He was asked if any new names had made the squad list.

“It was a fantastic game, wasn’t it? It was awesome rugby,” MacDonald told The Breakdown.

“To be honest, no new names. What we saw was the guys that we’ve been tracking play some fantastic rugby on the big stage and that’s what you want to see; the guys putting their hand up and performing.

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“It was a brutal game. It was physical, fast, there was a lot of ball movement so I think all the selectors were pretty excited around what we saw.”

National selection in 2024 looks a little different for New Zealand players, with a new coaching regime to impress and the selection duties evenly distributed through the new coaching cohort.

An experienced All Black fullback himself, MacDonald has been tasked with selecting the outside backs.

“It’s been an interesting process, a little bit of a different setup than what I’ve used in the past but I feel it’s working really well,” he said.

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“It’s meant that we’re really able to dig deep into our positions and even present back cases to the group and have that debate. Then, the responsibility lies in your court to make sure you’re getting it right.

“So I’ve been doing outside backs, I’ve covered every outside back in the country really and been following really closely.

“Obviously, we’re getting down to the pointy end of the season and the ability to have conversations right across the board – we’re all watching a lot of rugby so it’s nice to get other people’s opinions as well which has been awesome.”

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MacDonald said a forwards/backs split of 18/14 was planned, and selection emphasis is firmly on which players can bring the new game plan to life.

The first point of order for Scott Robertson’s staff was developing said game plan, giving every coach a strong image of what roles their selectees would have to fulfil.

“And that’s where the debate comes in; strong set piece vs mobility vs whatever. We’re just making sure that it aligns right back up to the start and the way we want to play attack and defence.

“In terms of fullbacks and wings, it’s about the ability to score tries out of nothing. That little five meters to go with two defenders, can we get home and get that little moment and score that try that we need to win the game?”

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
3
Draws
1
Wins
1
Average Points scored
18
18
First try wins
40%
Home team wins
60%

The former Blues head coach also stressed the importance of selecting based on what the cameras don’t catch during games, with backfield coverage expected to be put to the test by England in the team’s first game of the year.

For the Super Rugby final, MacDonald is more concerned about who walks off the field with a clean bill of health at the end than the result or even the respective performances. However, he did give the Blues a slight edge for home-field advantage when asked who was his pick to win.

“We’ve spoken about players at length, and now the time is arriving. We’re assembling this week with the non-finalists, or a group of non-finalists, before we name our squad, to get underway.

“It’s really exciting. What Razor’s got in store is really exciting, we’re really motivated about that and I suppose it’s a little bit like the first day in any job, I think there’s a little bit of nerves and that’s exciting as well.”

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5 Comments
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Jon 24 days ago

NZ journo’s are pretty sad, thats not uncommon way to ask a question like that. The manner in which that type of question is asked is normally from a general mindset “do you have any new names for you squad”, where as I think Kirsty meant is as literally “did you lock in any names for the 32 man squad based on that performance”. Your better off asking if any names have been scratched off the list, I wouldn’t really expect to have a name ‘locked in’ from a side still playing next week, and I doubt anyone “new name” played that well on the loosing team.

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Tom 1 hours ago
All Blacks snatch another tight victory from England at Eden Park

First up to any of the ABs fans who accused us of “bluster” pre-series for saying it would be a competitive - I'm glad it turned out to be an excellent series to which the ABs were deserving winners and I hope next time a side tours you'll be a little more humble. I loved the heart shown by the English boys and how they managed to contain the AB attack for large parts of the series. Was very disappointed by the lack of cohesion and ambition ball in hand, we looked after the ball poorly and hardly went 2 phases without kicking it away. We're not giving ourselves enough opportunity to put phases together and build pressure. The ambition shown in the 6N against Ireland and France seems to have gone and our players look very hesitant with ball in hand, we look much better when Marcus is taking the ball flat and boys are running hard at the line. So frustrating when we're starting to build pressure in the 22 we go back to the grubber kick then find ourselves back on the half way line 10 seconds later. We've shown great success with our box kicking game but we need to leave the flipping grubber kick in the locker room. Like the Marcus Smith hail Mary miss pass that went straight to Mark Telea, we seem to have no patience. Sometimes we just need to recycle the ball and go again. Loving seeing Maro back to his best and Fin Baxter really impressed, Alex Mitchell looks to be one of the most complete 9s in world rugby, great around the base and impeccable kicking. Congrats to the ABs, far more dangerous and skillful than England. We contained you for large swathes but to shut down that amount of pace and skill for 80 mins is nigh on impossible. Managed to find a way to win and instinctively grabbed the rare opportunities which came your way. Finding ways to win in two tight test matches will I'm sure be a great experience for your younger players. Beauden needs to be in the starting 15, what a worldie.

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