Superb Blackadder and Sotutu add to Ian Foster's selection headaches
In the All Blacks‘ comfortable 36-13 win over the Pumas last night, Ian Foster opted for the team’s fifth loose forward combination of the season. As has been the case throughout the year, every player in the trio emerged from the match with their reputations enhanced, further complicating the selection headache at hand for Foster and co.
While Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii and Ardie Savea have been the preferred trio to date, combining in three matches on the trot in 2021, it was only Savea who featured in the Pumas rematch. Instead, Foster called upon Ethan Blackadder and Hoskins Sotutu to round out the pack, with both delivering stand-out performances.
For Blackadder, the game marked the first opportunity for the 26-year-old to operate in his preferred blindside flanker role, where he featured in eight of his nine appearances for the Crusaders this season.
Following Blackadder’s initial selection in the All Blacks this year, the selectors made it known that they saw him as a man who has all the right attributes to slot into the No 7 jersey at test level. Until last night, all four of Blackadder’s appearances, whether they were off the bench or in the run-on side, had come on the openside flank. In the rematch with the Pumas, Blackadder was finally given the opportunity to play on the blindside, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
Blackadder topped the All Blacks’ tackle charts, with 11 knocks to his name. He matched that figure with his abrasive carries in open play and also offloaded out of contact on three occasions – the most of any player on the field – to help maintain his side’s exceptional continuity on attack.
Unsurprisingly, Foster was hugely pleased with the performance of the inexperienced All Black.
“What we got out of Ethan Blackadder’s probably what we got out of Ethan Blackadder at every training since he’s been picked in the black jersey,” Foster said following the win. “He gives everything, he puts his body on the line, he trains hard and so just delighted with him, that he was able to keep duplicating what he’s doing on Sunday to Friday.
“He’s a top man, he gives you everything, wears his heart on his sleeve but loves being in that black jersey and think we saw that tonight again.”
Hoskins Sotutu all showed off his incredible skillset in the No 8 jersey – although that’s never been in question, after some of the feats he’s performed for the Blues over the past two seasons.
Sotutu made 10 passes during the match, putting him behind just TJ Perenara, Finlay Christie, Damian McKenzie and Jordie Barrett. Two of his deliveries saw the receiving player immediately crunch over the line for tries while he also made ample metres on attack and finished the game with the fourth-most metres gained of any player on the park.
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The free-flowing game suited Sotutu’s style of play perfectly and while the 23-year-old will need to continue to showcase his talents in the tighter areas of the game against more dominant opposition, he too would have been proud of his performance in the victory.
It speaks volumes that captain Ardie Savea perhaps had the most understated performance of any of the loosies on display, given his dynamic work around the field – although he did perform one impressive chip-and-chase which came so close to creating a try.
“It’s pretty special times,” Savea said of the All Blacks’ current loose forward stocks following the win. “I’ve mentioned it before around being able to build into soft quarantine and spend a bit of time together. We’re all competing against each other at trainings and pushing each other so I think that’s showing out there on the field.
“With guys like Hos tonight, who hasn’t played in a couple of weeks, and [he] puts in the [big] performance, and Ethan as well… It’s good for us. It’s not so good for coach here, gives him headaches. But it’s good that there’s competition.”
The headache seems to grow stronger every week for Foster and his fellow selectors, with all six of the available loosies likely in contention for next Saturday’s clash with the Springboks – and that’s without factoring in the likes of Sam Cane and Shannon Frizell, who will be available come the trip north following the Rugby Championship.
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