While Ian Foster will certainly like to maintain some consistency from match to match, there’s one guaranteed change that will be required for this weekend’s Bledisloe Cup clash between New Zealand and Australia.
Ardie Savea, who started at No. 8 in the two prior Bledisloes, remained in NZ to spend time with his family following the birth of his second child while the rest of the squad travelled to Sydney for Saturday’s match.
New Zealand have plenty of players capable of stepping into the eighth-man role, including the uncapped duo of Akira Ioane and Cullen Grace, and even captain Sam Cane.
For former All Black James Parsons and four-time Super Rugby champion Bryn Hall, the choice is an obvious one: Blues loose forward Hoskins Sotutu.
“You’ve gotta reward his performances he had during Super Rugby Aotearoa,” Hall said on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “If you’re looking at what he brings to the table, it’s a good opportunity for him to play. I think the fact that he’s had a couple of test matches as well, it’s gonna help towards that.”
Sotutu was used off the bench against the Wallabies in Wellington and Auckland and the 22-year-old bolter brought plenty of impact late in both matches.
For a man who few had heard of prior to Super Rugby’s kick-off earlier this year, an All Blacks starting debut in Sydney would be an incredible achievement and just rewards for the young loose forward.
“That’s just form, isn’t it?” Parsons suggested when host Ross Karl commented on Sotutu’s rapid rise.
“I think that’s the best thing, is we’re talking about guys being picked on form. It’s reward for playing well at Super Rugby and I think that’s the best message you can send to all players: if you play well enough, you’re not going to have to do it for two years. If you play well enough, we’re going to pick you when you’re in form. And sometimes that probably hasn’t been the case so I think that’s the exciting aspect for all young guys going to Super Rugby.”
Parsons also spoke of the extra skills that his Blues’ teammate would bring to a well-functioning All Blacks pack.
“My biggest thing is what Hoskins can give you at lineout time; he’s exceptional. He gives you a real force, real option. I know we’ve used Ardie a lot but he’s got height and he’s got explosive power and I think he can go to a different position in a lineout. He can be more of that back-ball-winning No. 8, sort of like a Kieran Read.
“Also let’s not forget the heat and maybe a little bit of pressure got the better of the Wallabies tight five. They started off really well [at] scrum-time; they were dominant. And then just due to the amount of tackles they had to make and the way the game went, they fell away, and it brought the All Blacks back in.
“One of Hoskins’ biggest weapons is the quick hook and go. I don’t know how he picks the ball up because you always boot it back there when you’re the hooker. He picks up and he’s gone.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 28, 2020
Halfback Hall squared off with Sotutu twice during the Super Rugby season and backed up Parsons’ comments.
“I’m glad you said that because I think the amount of attacking ability you get off the back of a scrum with the No. 8, how hard it is to defend as a 9 or just in general, it opens up so much opportunities. The fact he can actually kick as well…”
“I know as a 9, when we previewed Hoskins and even Akira as well, the ability to play off the back of a scrum, it just opens up so much more. Especially if you’re struggling a little bit with your set-piece, that quick hook, he’s out, he can go down the blindside and it’s an easy 15-20 metres down the sideline and your forwards are running onto the ball off that.”
“If we’re struggling at set-piece, it’s just a bail-out,” Parsons said. “It takes away a weapon by having him in the boot.”
Earlier in the week, Foster suggested that both Ioane and Grace have impressed the new head coach in recent weeks, but Sotutu’s extra experience (at least in terms of international rugby) and undeniable form will make him the firm favourite for selection.
Foster will name his All Blacks side later today.
Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below or find it on your preferred streaming service.
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