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'He is our best 12 option': The All Blacks' 'big' midfield dilemma

By Finn Morton
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Less than a year out from the Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks have some major selection decisions to make ahead of their final Test of the year against England.

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After an inconsistent year, which has included historic losses to Ireland and Argentina, there are still some questions that remain answered about the All Blacks.

New Zealand made several changes to their starting XV for their clash with Scotland on Monday morning (AEST), such as moving Jordie Barrett from inside centre to fullback.

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Barrett had starred in the No. 12 jersey against Wales the week before, where he scored an exceptional double that showcased his sheer power, athleticism and ability.

But after moving to fullback, the 25-year-old was unable to wreak havoc like he did the week before – although he still scored 11-points off the kicking tee.

Ahead of their final Test match of the year at Twickenham, Black Ferns international Chelsea Semple said Barrett is the All Blacks’ “best 12 option” at the moment – and he must start against England.

“Jordie Barret has to start at 12. When he did come into that 12 position in the Test this morning, he just got things going forward,” Semple said on The Breakdown.

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“He’s a big, strong presence and I think right now he is our best 12 option and that in turn sends Beauden back to 15 and brings Mo’unga back into 10.

“The 13 position for me is interesting because I think Fossie will be thinking, obviously Rieko is our number one 13 at the moment, btu we need to give Anton Lienert-Brown more time as well because he’s going to be a huge part of our World Cup next year.

“Do we put Anton Lienert-Brown into centre and push Rieko to the wing and see how that combination plays out? That’s what I’d be looking at if I was Fossie.”

While Barrett has been impressive in the All Blacks midfield, he has proven himself to be one of it not the best fullback in the country as well.

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Meanwhile, Ian Foster has regularly looked to David Havili and Rieko Ioane as options in the midfield, with the latter having seemingly cemented his place in the No. 13 jersey.

Commentator Fauono Ken Laban disagreed with Semple’s opinion on how the All Blacks midfield should take shape, saying the team needs to go with a “proven combination.”

“Well they’re not going to change it now for the last Test so Rieko will start at 13,” Laban said.

“What Chelsea and Brendon, of course all of that makes sense but the reality is Rieko has been the mainstay in the midfield.

“What they do about 12, what they do about Havilli because Havilli was the first choice 12 for a long time.

“Barrett could play 12 if they wanted to, but I wouldn’t play Jordie Barrett at 12 against England, I’d go in with the strongest, most proven midfield combination.

“I’d play Anton Lienert-Brown at 12 and Rieko at 13, and play Jordie at the back. You’ve just got to make the call on Richie (and) Beauden, one starts at 10 and the other comes from the bench.”

The All Blacks have another major decision to make this week after TJ Perenara’s successful return to Test rugby at Murrayfield.

Perenara made his return to the Test arena after being dropped from the All Blacks squad earlier this year, with up-and-coming talents Finlay Christie and Folau Fakatava selected before him.

But the veteran of almost 80-Tests more than earnt his way back into the national squad after starring for the Wellington Lions, Hurricanes and All Blacks XV.

“It’s interesting how players react when they get dropped or when they get bad news, and especially when you’re sitting on 78-Tests and have been such an important part for a long time,” Laban added.

“He’s been an interesting observation for me, TJ. In-between Super Rugby and the NPC, TJ went back and played for the Norths Rugby Club in the local club competition, led his club team Norths to the Jubilee Cup which is a prestigious winter trophy in Wellington.

“He was a very, very important part of them winning the Ranfurly Shield, and of course winning for the first time in 22-years, winning the NPC.

“Like Kendra (Cocksedge), the number nine touches the ball than anyone else on the park so they have a major say… by whatever criteria you want to measure, he has been an exceptional personality in terms of the way that he’s handled and conducted himself with such class.

“He could easily have signed a mega-deal to go to Japan or go to Europe and say, ‘well you don’t want me’, flip New Zealand the bird and off he goes.

“But he hasn’t done that. He stayed back and fought and the game turned when he came on… TJ was the key player that turned the game.”

The All Blacks’ Test against England at Twickenham promises to be another enthralling instalment between two traditional rugby rivals.

After ending their Northern Tour on a losing note last season, New Zealand will undoubtedly be focused on maintaining some momentum ahead of a World Cup year.

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