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'That is still a big question mark': Answers for make-up of All Blacks forward pack

By Sam Smith
(Photos by Joe Allison/Gettys Images)

A former All Black and a Kiwi pundit have weighed in on which players should make up New Zealand’s forward pack following the latest round of Super Rugby Pacific.

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The Crusaders’ clash with the Chiefs pitted the country’s two strongest packs against each other in what was an attritional battle at the breakdown and in close quarters.

Chiefs captain Sam Cane admitted after his side’s 34-19 loss in Hamilton that the visitors won the majority of the collisions and on the ground at the ruck, largely due to the return of All Blacks lock Scott Barrett, who filled in for the missing Sam Whitelock.

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Ex-All Blacks star Sir John Kirwan told Sky Sport’s The Breakdown Barrett’s performance had elevated his standing as the third in line for the national pecking order at lock behind Whitelock and his Chiefs opposite Brodie Retallick.

“I thought that Scott Barrett was very physical. I know he’s probably not as tall as other locks, he’s one of the shorter locks and I know that he is trying to work on his physicality, but I thought he was really good in periods of time,” Kirwan said.

“He was doing the hard yards, making big hits, carrying the ball hard. I thought he was a really important replacement, not having Whitelock out there, and brought something a bit different.

“We’ve spoken about locks in the past, ‘Who is our third lock, is it going to be a loose forward that covers?’ He was really good.”

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Another All Blacks lock, Tupou Vaa’i of the Chiefs, packed down on at blindside flanker against the Crusaders in a continuation of his positional switch this season.

When asked whether Vaa’i has done enough to be considered for higher honours at No 6, pundit and commentator Ken Laban said it is still a question mark position for the national coaching staff.

“That is still a big question mark for us,” Laban said.

“Players that have been tried at 6: Shannon Frizell, Ethan Blackadder, Akira Ioane, and then last year, a tremendous season of development for Tupou Vaa’i.

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“Defensively, he’s a big unit, he’s got very nice soft hands for a big guy. We all know he can carry and carry hard.

“I definitely think he needs to be there or thereabouts, particularly if we want to get big, strong and physical against Northern Hemisphere teams that dusted us up last year.”

Kirwan was in agreement with Laban and said that Frizell and Vaa’i should be given the chance to go head-to-head for the jersey.

“Frizell and Tupou Vaa’i need to be the two 6s and move forward with it,” Kirwan claimed.

“Akira I think is outstanding, but he is injured and I just think you put these two boys in and let them go head-to-head for the 6 jersey.

“After Scott Barrett’s game on the weekend, you say, ‘You are our third [No 6]’. We’ve got some young guys coming through, that’s good, but I think those two boys, I like them.

“Frizell has been strong as well and we need that hard ball carrier but also that sting in defence.”

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