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Spare a thought for the unlucky All Blacks that missed selection

By Tom Vinicombe
Luke Jacobson. (Photo by Michael Bradley/AFP)

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Saturday night’s clash between New Zealand and France will be the last chance for many All Blacks to take the field this season, while there are some who already played their final match in the weeks gone.

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Some of the players who have missed selection to take on Les Bleus have shouldered relatively full workloads throughout the bulk of the season. Codie Taylor, Ethan Blackadder, Dalton Papalii, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett and Anton Lienert-Brown have, when fit, been relatively first-choice selections by Ian Foster and his men, and while they still would have likely preferred to run out in Paris, they can at least head home knowing they’ve been major features in an epic test season.

There are others, like Akira Ioane, Sam Cane, George Bridge and Quinn Tupaea, who will be ecstatic that they’ve made the final cut for the last game of a 10-game tour, having primarily sat on the sidelines in recent weeks.

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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.
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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.

Even for men like Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ofa Tuungafasi, Tupou Vaa’i and Shannon Frizell, who will park up on the bench this weekend, the chance to at least use up some of the energy they’ve doubt pent up over the past few weeks will be a huge relief.

But spare a thought for some of the other players in the squad, the men who’ve been on deck at All Blacks trainings week-in and week-out for the last five months but who have had to primarily watch from the bleachers as their more senior first-string teammates take the pitch game after game, who have again missed selection.

The All Blacks will play their 15th match of the year on Saturday after first assembling at the end of June and, for the majority of the squad, barely spending any time apart since the first test against Tonga.

Throughout those 15 matches, five full-time members of the squad will have featured in five or fewer games – with the majority of those appearances coming in dribs and drabs off the bench.

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Hooker Asafo Aumua, prop Ethan de Groot, loose forward Hoskins Sotutu, halfback Finlay Christie and midfielder Braydon Ennor have amassed just 24 appearances and 10 starts between them over the season.

There are others, like locks Josh Lord and Patrick Tuipulotu and halfback Aaron Smith that have also accrued minimal minutes but in the latter two cases, that’s down to their own personal situations. Lord, who was only whistled into the squad ahead of the northern tour, will simply be thrilled to have gotten the call-up and the two caps he earned against the USA and Italy will be the icing on the cake for the young man.

But for the likes of Aumua, Sotutu and Ennor, who are into their second year with the national side, it will have been tough not hearing their names read out at the team announcement earlier in the week – even if that’s what they’d been anticipating all along.

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Having travelled to Europe with 39 players, there were always going to be an unlucky few that were forced into expelling most of their energy outside of game situations. In the days of yore, those men would have at least had mid-week games against club sides to get some minutes under their belt but for obvious reasons, that wasn’t possible this year.

While Aumua, De Groot, Sotutu, Christie and Ennor have hardly put a foot wrong this season, they’ve simply found themselves lower down on the All Blacks pecking order.

There are others who will also be feeling bitterly disappointed at missing selection.

Luke Jacobson has been a stellar performer throughout the year but with Ioane and Cane both also in need of minutes, and Frizell only travelling for the final part of the season, it was evidently too big an ask to find space for either him or Sotutu in the match-day 23, despite swapping three of the four loose forwards out from last weekend.

Angus Ta’avao is another unlucky soldier, though his limited minutes throughout the year are a product of an incredibly unlucky run of injuries for the big prop.

So while Ian Foster has made some major changes to the match-day side for the final game of the year against France, rotating 13 new players into the line-up for the skirmish, there are still going to be those who were on the cusp of selection feeling disappointed that they didn’t quite make the cut.

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