One easy fix to ignite the All Blacks' attack
The All Blacks have always possessed brilliant individuals who are capable of producing something from nothing – and the current crop of players is no exception.
Smattered amongst the squad selected for the July tests with Ireland are the likes of Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Akira Ioane and Ardie Savea – players who, when given the right amount of time and space, can generate exceptional one-off plays that can turn a test.
In the series decider with Ireland on Saturday, it was an in-pass from Savea to Jordan inside the All Blacks 22 in the 60th minute to set the latter away on a run that ended in one of the greatest individual tries of the last 12 months.
Jordan is perhaps one of the best players in the world at pulling a rabbit out of a hat – his highlights from the 2021 season are numerous, whether wearing No 15 for the Crusaders or No 14 for the All Blacks.
It’s in the former jersey, however, that the 24-year-old could perhaps best be utilised by the New Zealand national side moving forward.
In 15 tests to date, Jordan has not yet been given the opportunity to take on fullback responsibilities for the All Blacks, despite that being his position of choice, and the one where he first made a name for himself with Tasman and the Crusaders.
Like his predecessor, Ben Smith, Jordan has spent the formative years of his test career camped out on the wing and although you couldn’t fault his performances in the role – 19 tries from 15 appearances is not a bad return, after all – his opportunities to make an impact are being blunted by being pushed towards the sidelines.
Jordan’s greatest strength is his wide skill set: he’s quick, powerful, has a smart short-range kicking game, and has developed his nous when it comes to determining whether to give the ball to the men around him, or to make a run himself – although there’s probably still more work to do in that facet of the game.
Opposition know what Jordan is capable of and that can often leave them in two minds when defending against him but by positioning him on the wing, some of his options are stripped away, creating a buffer against his attacking abilities.
In the All Blacks’ past five tests, current fullback Jordie Barrett has had almost 50 per cent more touches than whoever has been stationed on the right wing (either Jordan or Sevu Reece), and while Barrett has been a key playmaking figure for the Hurricanes in recent years, he hasn’t been able to generate the same positive plays from the back for NZ.
Jordan, on the other hand, might be better placed to take advantage of the open space he’ll be handed on the counter-attack thanks to his incredible pace – one of the few things Barrett somewhat lacks for compared to his contemporaries.
Especially with the way the All Blacks are currently operating, the majority of their tries are being generated through something-out-of-nothing plays – and Jordan is the man best placed to take advantage of that.
Where Jordan certainly can’t measure up to Barrett, however, is his kicking game. Barrett’s long, raking boot has been a key strength of the 25-year-old’s throughout his time in the fullback jumper but the All Blacks only really take advantage of it when clearing from within their own 22.
If Jordan takes over the fullback responsibilities, that doesn’t necessarily mean Barrett has to be left out of the equation altogether, given there’s still a vacancy in the No 12 jersey for the All Blacks.
Head coach Ian Foster expressed earlier in the year that he doesn’t see Barrett moving into the midfield for the national side anytime soon, despite doing exactly that for the Hurricanes, because it would mean the lanky utility back couldn’t make the most of his height under the high balls.
“Particularly when you get to the Northern Hemisphere style you have to have the ability to deal with that high ball and make sure you’ve got a strong kicking game in your back three,” Foster told the NZ Herald.
“He ticked those boxes. He wasn’t at his best against France but the rest of the tour I thought he was one of our success stories.”
Jordan, at 6 foot 2, is hardly a small player, however, and his high-ball work certainly wouldn’t be put down as a weakness – even if he’s not quite up to Barrett’s standards.
Moving Barrett away from fullback might prevent him from utilising one of his greatest strengths, but that doesn’t mean it will create a weakness for the All Blacks.
Closer to the action, Barrett would have greater opportunities to make use of his sizeable frame – as he put to such good use to score NZ’s opening try of the series in Auckland, while it would free up the No 15 jersey for the more dynamic Jordan to really get his explosive attacking game going.
In attritional matches where kicks at goal are expected to settle the result, perhaps the safe-as-house Jordie Barrett is the best man to be camped at the back for the All Blacks, but if Ian Foster and co want to quickly ignite their attack then they need to look no further than tasking Will Jordan with fullback responsibilities.
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