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Scott Robertson names two most challenging positions for All Blacks to fill

By Finn Morton
Aaron Smith and Cam Roigard of the All Blacks run through drills 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)

New coach Scott Robertson has highlighted lock and halfback as the two toughest holes to fill for the All Blacks as they prepare to usher in a new era without some retired greats.

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When the full-time whistle sounded at Stade de France on a fateful October night last year, the All Blacks dropped their heads after losing the Rugby World Cup final by just a single point.

But in that moment, the Test careers of some New Zealand rugby icons came to an end. Locking duo Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, and halfback Aaron Smith, were among the retirees.

All three men are considered some of the best All Blacks in history which poses a tough task for those deemed worthy to follow in their footsteps under new boss ‘Razor’ Robertson.

“I think we talked about the locks. When you lose two you have to bring one or two back in,” Robertson said on Sky Sport NZ’s The Breakdown.

“We’ve still got Patrick (Tuipulotu) there when he comes back. He’s a champion, when he’s on form he’s a great player.

“Probably the halfback with Aaron Smith… you’re not going to replace him but someone’s gotta go own it in themselves in any position.

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“We’ve got some good players in a number of teams coming through.

“Those are off the top of my mind, those two key positions there.”

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Patrick Tuipulotu was namedropped by Robertson which goes to show the injured Blues captain is very much in the frame for a return to the All Blacks’ setup in 2024.

At lock, Scott Barrett would be the only certainty for selection while the Chiefs duo of Tupou Vaa’i and Josh Lord also have experience at international level.

Hurricanes No. 9 Cam Roigard appears to be the leading candidate to step into Aaron Smith’s shoes, but there isn’t a whole lot of Test experience elsewhere for halfbacks in New Zealand.

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So, at least in theory, the All Blacks and New Zealand Rugby could look abroad to fill some of these gaps.

Robertson has spoken in the past about “keeping an open mind” about potentially altering the current eligibility rules which prevent overseas players – who aren’t contracted to New Zealand Rugby – from representing the All Blacks.

“As I mentioned earlier on just around keeping an open mind about the eligibility criteria,” Robertson added.

“Firstly, everyone thinks we’re gonna open the gates, the floodgates, well it’s not. I’m just looking at the people that are eligible and they meet the criteria.

“I deal with agents all the time. I’m dealing with players, one of my main jobs is understanding what they need. If I’m gonna say it publicly I’ve got to talk to the players about it too and got to understand where the game’s going.”

Scott Robertson’s first Test in charge of the All Blacks is set for the 6th of July when New Zealand host England at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium.

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