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The All Blacks' game needs to be built around the Retallick's and Savea's

By Hamish Bidwell

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Not so long ago, I would’ve contended that Brodie Retallick was the best all around player in the world.

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The man simply has it all: workrate, aggression, lineout prowess, tackling, ball-carrying, a short-passing game. If you were to draw up the perfect locking partner for the relentless intensity of Sam Whitelock, it would be Retallick.

Fair to say, then, that Retallick has rather underwhelmed since returning for All Blacks duty from Japan.

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Ardie Savea on the All Blacks’ performance against Wales
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Ardie Savea on the All Blacks’ performance against Wales

The niggle is still there, clearly. The man has been the most-penalised All Blacks in two tests against South Africa this season, plus the Bledisloe Cup clash at Eden Park and then again in Sunday’s (NZ time) 54-16 win over Wales.

The difference on this most recent occasion, though, is you could argue Retallick had been the best player on the park until being forced off with a shoulder problem after an hour.

Apparently Beauden Barrett was man of the match. Not sure why.

As a quick aside, I’m pleased for Barrett that he got to don the silver boot and cap combo for reaching the 100-test match milestone, but these things are rather meaningless.

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The All Blacks play a lot of games now. And a lot of All Blacks, such as Barrett, play a lot of those games from off the bench.

If Grant Fox plays 46 tests as an All Black, does this now make Barrett twice as good a first five-eighth as he was? Is Kieran Read (127 tests) actually any better than Wayne Shelford (22 tests) or Zinzan Brooke (58)?

Games have lost their currency and our elite players are ostensibly fulltime All Blacks, rather than men who have club and provincial and franchise commitments as well.

Players are good in their era, but accumulating a lot of caps isn’t the same thing as being an all-time great. Anyway, let’s move on.

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Cardiff was not a venue for midfield backs on Sunday. With halfback TJ Perenara clearing the ball with all the speed of a bloke on a building site lobbing bricks into a wheelbarrow, the All Blacks had to play through the forwards.

We’ve become accustomed to seeing this team try to combat rushing defensive lines by going around them. Whether by pass or by kick, the All Blacks have assumed that the space lies largely on the outside.

Against Wales, New Zealand went direct. All of the forward pack played their part, often running off a short ball from Retallick.

If the All Blacks are to avoid being shut down by advancing defensive lines, then this looms as an effective counter.

People want to see this team evolve. They want to see it develop and show that it has learned to win games by a variety of means.

There seemed to be plenty of Whitelock about how the game against Wales was won. Taking the ball up through the forwards, kicking for goal. It all felt like it had the captain’s imprint upon it.

Critical to it all, though, are the multi-skilled Retallick and hugely impressive Ardie Savea.

We love a back in this country. A guy with wheels and a bit of cheek, who revels in embarrassing defenders.

But if the All Blacks are to be a serious threat at the next world cup, then a lot of their game will need to be built around men such as Whitelock, Retallick and Savea. If you do want to talk all-time, then Whitelock and Retallick would be great players in any era and Savea is fast on the way.

You can’t say fairer than that.

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