The All Blacks rookie who poses the biggest threat to Brad Weber
Brad Weber is enjoying the presence of All Blacks rookie Finlay Christie in the national squad, but he seems equally aware of the threat the red-haired ball of energy poses to his chances of selection.
After making his first two appearances in the black jersey off the bench against Tonga and Fiji over the past fortnight, Christie has impressed with the impetus and high-tempo style of play he’s injected into each of those matches.
Stepping into the All Blacks squad for the first time in his career during TJ Perenara’s sabbatical-enforced absence from Ian Foster’s set-up, Christie’s efforts to ensure he keeps his place in the squad beyond the current test series isn’t going unnoticed.
It’s not just on the field where the Scottish-born halfback is leaving his mark, though, as Weber has relished being back in the same team as Christie for the first time since his departure from the Chiefs in 2017.
“It’s great. I was devastated when we lost Red a few years ago when he moved to the Hurricanes from here,” Weber told media from the All Blacks’ base in Hamilton ahead of their second test against Fiji at FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday.
“He’s a great team man and he’s a teammate that I’ve really enjoyed having around, so it’s nice to have him back in. He’s a great lad and he’s playing some fantastic footy as well, so it’s cool having him in here.”
It’s no surprise that Weber gets on so well with Christie given they share similar past times away from the footy field. By Weber’s own admission, enjoying a beer or two is among the shared interests he and Christie have in common.
“It’s his off-field stuff, for me. He doesn’t mind a beer and neither do I, so we’ve had a couple good times together in that regard. He’s got a great sense of humour, he’s great to have around, he’s a great lad.”
More importantly, from a purely playing perspective, Christie’s brief performances in the first two tests of the year have proven his value as an All Black in the international arena.
The 25-year-old’s livewire showings against ‘Ikale Tahi and the Flying Fijians were reminiscent of the impeccable form he found himself while playing for the Blues since moving from the Hurricanes ahead of last year’s Super Rugby campaign.
During his time in Auckland, Christie has caught the eye largely thanks to his snappy running ability, but Weber also pinpointed his defensive exploits as a key area where the former gymnast has seriously improved his game.
“I suppose, on the field, he’s taken his attacking game to a new level,” Weber said.
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“I think, in previous years, his skill set has been inconsistent, but he’s incredibly consistent at it now and some of his defensive work rate is top notch.
“Some of the hits he put on those Tongan boys in that first week was pretty impressive, so he can certainly throw it down.”
However, those attributes alone may not be the biggest threat that Christie poses to the current crop of All Blacks halfbacks.
Given his relative youth compared to Weber, Perenara and the incumbent Aaron Smith, some may view Christie as the long-term successor to all three players beyond the 2023 World Cup.
The aforementioned trio have been the preferred three halfbacks in the All Blacks squad since 2019, but with all of them either on the cusp of or beyond the age of 30, their days as All Blacks are limited.
So, while Smith, Perenara and Weber might be the best and most experienced No 9s in the country, Christie poses a threat to their places in the national squad as, unlike the veteran trio, his future beyond 2023 looks destined to be in an All Blacks jersey.
With that in mind, Smith’s back-ups Perenara and Weber might face pressure to retain their places in Foster’s side in the coming years as the likes of Christie are included in an effort to minimise the impact of the likely mass post-World Cup exodus.
Perenara’s contractual situation with New Zealand Rugby and NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes has already seen him hand over his place in the current All Blacks squad to Christie, but that could become commonplace for him or Weber over time.
You’d be forgiven for assuming that would create an extra edge of tension among the current three halfbacks in the All Blacks squad, but Weber ensured he, Christie and Smith all maintain strong relationships and look out for one another in camp.
That didn’t stop the eight-test halfback from conceding there was still an element of competitiveness for places in the match day squad.
“You get competitive wherever you go, but I suppose I can’t focus on what him or another guy is doing,” Weber said.
“I can only really focus on myself and I’ll, of course, support all our 9s, we’ve all got pretty good relationships here, so I’ll support them 100 percent and then focus on myself so I can play well.”
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