Only one of Stevenson or Narawa has a shot as a World Cup bolter
Shaun Stevenson and Emoni Narawa, the Chiefs’ dynamic duo, continued their sensational seasons with destructive attacking play in the demolition job of the Highlanders
Stevenson notched his 10th try of the year after seizing a deft chip kick from centre Daniel Rona, while dazzling with a flick pass for Anton Lienert-Brown’s try.
Narawa glided across the Forsyth Barr turf for one of the tries of the season, weaving through Highlanders defenders with apparent ease and had a hand in another try to George Dyer.
On form, both would be worthy selections in the All Blacks squad.
Both of them may debut during the reduced Rugby Championship or warm-up fixtures, which there is recent historical precedent for in a World Cup year.
In 2019, the All Blacks capped four new players, in 2015 they capped nine.
But only one of Stevenson or Narawa will likely be able to push forward as a World Cup bolter selection as the positional group is almost set in stone.
Five outside backs were taken on the Northern tour last year in a 35-man squad.
That will likely remain the case for the World Cup, even in a squad that will be reduced down to 33.
Caleb Clarke is the first-choice left winger, bringing the power running the selectors want to see in the No. 11 jersey.
Crusader Leicester Fainga’anuku has been the backup and also brings versatility as a centre option.
Will Jordan is the first-choice right-wing when available and is one of the best strike weapons the All Blacks have, with 21 tries from 21 caps.
His speed, big-playmaking ability, kicking game, and budding combination with Rieko Ioane make him a must-start in the No. 14 jersey.
Last year’s debutant, Mark Telea, entered the frame on the end-of-year tour as Jordan’s replacement.
With Crusader Sevu Reece out for the year with an ACL injury, Telea remains the backup No. 14 option.
Those are the four incumbent wingers who have the inside running on the World Cup squad spots at this point.
Narawa would have to displace either Telea or Fainga’anuku while beating out Stevenson in that selection process.
Telea still has been one of the form players in the competition, with the third-most defenders beaten and third-most clean breaks. Only Clarke and Stevenson have more.
The Blues’ right-wing is extremely shifty and brings a similar game to the table as Narawa. His form this season has been very good, more than enough to maintain his place.
Displacing Fainga’anuku on the left flank is a long shot. He brings a power game, midfield cover, while Narawa’s left-wing experience to date at Super Rugby level is limited.
Despite his brilliant form, the 23-year-old’s chances seem unlikely without injury to one of the front-runners.
Stevenson has better odds of securing the fifth squad spot for the outside backs, but it is dependent on whether the selectors want more midfield options.
Jordie Barrett continued to be selected as a fullback in the 2022 squad despite playing in the midfield down the stretch.
There is every chance Barrett is picked as a fullback in the World Cup squad to allow for the selection of another midfielder, which would be the worst case scenario for Stevenson.
However, if Barrett is picked purely as a midfielder the Chiefs’ fullback then has a decent shot at forcing his way in as a wing-fullback option over Narawa.
There is also an argument that Stevenson could displace Telea purely on the grounds of versatility, with the Chiefs’ star able to cover two positions.
The All Blacks have traditionally viewed the right wing position as a second fullback, a role that Stevenson is well-suited for, along with players like Will Jordan, Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, and Cory Jane.
In 2015, Nehe Milner-Skudder, who played fullback for the Hurricanes, emerged as a talented right winger for the All Blacks in the World Cup.
This season, Stevenson has been the form player, displaying Milner-Skudder-like energy and producing big plays at will
The 26 year old has filled out his 1.90 metre frame and has evolved to a level where he is playing a different game to everyone else in Super Rugby, possessing both the height and size for Test rugby, along with speed and natural attacking instinct.
The All Blacks suffered a lifeless attacking performance in their defeat to England four years ago in Japan.
They couldn’t find a way to the get the ball back often enough and when they did, they lacked power options and the game-breakers couldn’t find an answer to England’s punishing defence.
With that in mind, it would be negligent to dismiss a player like Stevenson who has shown X-factor and the nascent ability to manufacture tries.
Narawa may become an All Black this year, but it is Stevenson with a realistic pathway to France as part of the World Cup squad.
World Cup squad outside backs prediction: Caleb Clarke, Will Jordan, Mark Telea, Shaun Stevenson, Leicester Fainga’anuku
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Great read. Top player, even better man.Go to comments
So I’m assuming England centrally contract the women as there’s no money in the women’s game? Time they did the same in the men’sGo to comments