For all of his consistent excellence, Matt Todd has never been to a World Cup.
Well, that’s not quite right. There was the curious case of him training against the All Blacks at the 2011 event after he happened to bring his boots to a holiday in Auckland when Richie McCaw couldn’t train due to the pain in his broken foot.
Todd was unofficial cover for McCaw in case the skipper broke down completely. But it was all done on a hush hush basis because World Cup regulations meant while McCaw remained as a squad member Todd couldn’t be officially welcomed or even stay in the same hotel; for him it was probably a bit like being invited to a party on the basis you entered through the back door and confined yourself to helping in the kitchen.
Now, though, after missing the World Cup in England and Wales four years ago, Todd is likely to get the red carpet treatment all the way on to the front end of the plane for the trip to Tokyo next month because, while Steve Hansen must cull four players from his current squad of 34 (allowing for the probable inclusion of currently injured Brodie Retallick), Todd, a 31-year-old who has never given up on his dream, is unlikely to be one of them.
He may lack a bit of size, and he was buffeted around at times when starting at openside flanker against the giant Springboks pack during the recent drawn test in Wellington, but Todd has the pace, durability and uncanny ability to make big interventions late in tests that will likely see him included in the final squad of 31.
Crucially, he is built for the game the All Blacks want to play; an up-tempo run-fest, because he has a diesel-like motor that can just keep going. His all-action performance for the Crusaders in the bruising Super Rugby final against the Jaguares in Christchurch early last month was extraordinary.
At the Cake Tin, Todd played 80 minutes, made all 14 of his tackles and offloaded twice. As a turnover expert and link player there are few better and his combinations with fellow Crusaders and key tacticians Kieran Read and Richie Mo’unga could be invaluable at the World Cup.
“I thought he played pretty good,” Hansen said of Todd’s contribution in his 18th test. It was just his fifth start.
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“He’s been an unfortunate player in some respects; he first made the All Blacks, got called in as a back-up for Richie in 2011, which is a long time ago.
“He’s been behind Richie, then Sam Cane and Ardie, but he’s always been reliable.
“And he’s always been a good performer every time he puts on the black jersey – tonight was another example of that.”
Todd, off to Japan on a full-time basis after the World Cup, will likely start at least two pool games as the All Blacks attempt to win their third in a row and will provide valuable cover for the rest should Hansen decide to start with a loose trio of Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and Kieran Read for the bigger matches.
So, if Todd appears safe, who is most vulnerable should everyone remain available?
If Retallick comes back as expected, Jackson Hemopo, currently in the squad as a lock, will probably be considered a loose forward who can play lock and on that basis will be included, with Vaea Fifita or Luke Jacobson vulnerable, as are utility backs Braydon Ennor and Jordie Barrett.
Todd should be on his way. It has taken time for him to get the recognition he probably deserves but as the All Blacks attempt to set the piece in Japan he’ll be one of those on the front line.
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