As Super Rugby Aotearoa winds down to its conclusion, the national rugby focus in New Zealand will soon begin to shift to the upcoming North vs South clash, which will be followed by Ian Foster’s first All Blacks squad announcement.

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The historic inter-island clash is set to be revived at Eden Park on August 29, two weeks after the final round of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

The following day, Foster will name a 35-man All Blacks squad ahead of a New Zealand-hosted Rugby Championship and a possible four-match Bledisloe Cup series, although both tournaments are yet to be confirmed.

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After eight rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa action, plenty of selection debate has arisen as to who could make the cut in the national squad.

Particular interest has been fixed on the lock department, where there seems to be a shortage of talent in the absence of Brodie Retallick, who remains on sabbatical, and Scott Barrett, who will be sidelined over the coming months with a toe injury.

That leaves only All Blacks centurion Sam Whitelock and Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu as the only second rowers with test match experience who stand as realistic selection options.

All Blacks selector Grant Fox indicated last month that, without Retallick and Barrett, there will be a chance for uncapped locks in Super Rugby Aotearoa to make their way into the national squad.

“We are not overly blessed in the locking department with big, strong athletic men,’’ Fox told Newstalk ZB.

“We have lots of guys who are a good physical size, who are great toilers who roll their sleeves up and get stuck in but in our view we can’t have everybody of the same ilk.

“We needs some contrast in that.’’

Just who fits the bill as a “big, strong athletic” second rower remains to be seen, but that hasn’t stopped Super Rugby Aotearoa stars James Parsons and Bryn Hall from voicing their opinions into the discussion.

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Speaking on RugbyPassAotearoa Rugby Pod, Parsons seemed unconcerned at the depth of New Zealand’s locking stocks as he listed off a number of potential candidates who he believed may be worthy of an international call-up.

However, the two-test All Black hooker was adamant that his Blues and North Harbour teammate Gerard Cowley-Tuioti was a “a no-brainer” selection.

“For me, it’s Gerard,” Parsons said. “You just watch the weekend [against the Highlanders], watch the week before against the Chiefs.

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“He’d been out for two months with a shoulder injury, and came back off the bench, and then started the last two.

“I just think defensively, his ability to carry, and I think he’s great in the set piece, and will only get better in an All Black environment – but I am biased.”

He added: “Talk about dominant tackle stats, work rate, ability in the air, I think he has to be right in the discussion, especially if you’ve listened to Foxy’s comments.

“They’ve got a lot of grafters, the way they perceive it, there’s a lot of grafters around there, but they want a point of difference, that athletic style of lock as well.

“Vaea [Fifita] might even come back into the frame there, and as I mentioned with Gerard there, he’s a real option, he’s mature, he’s had a lot of experience.”

Parsons noted that injured Highlanders lock Josh Dickson would have been deep in contention for national honours had he not broken his leg against the Crusaders, but it was his second row partner at the southern franchise that Hall was impressed by.

“I think Pari Pari [Parkinson] as well,” Hall said. “I think if you look at his tools and how big he is, and I guess the physicality side, he’s probably something a little bit different, he’s probably a lot taller and a lot bigger.

“If you’re talking about potentials, I think Pari would be a pretty good option as well.”

Standing at 2.04m and 119kg, Parkinson is among the largest players in Super Rugby Aotearoa, and Parsons believes his height would be a valued asset at the lineout.

“I mean, it’s hard to look past his height, as a lock,” Parsons said.

“He just has to factor into the decision. You will win clean ball. It’s a no-brainer that the Highlanders are second in lineouts, it’s got a lot to do with him, and the other fella we spoke about, Dickson.

“That height is an easy win against most locks.”

The other prospect highly-regarded by both Hall and Parsons was Crusaders youngster Quinten Strange, who has featured predominantly off the bench for the reigning Super Rugby champions.

He has, however, shown plenty of promise since making his Mitre 10 Cup debut in 2016.

“I really like Quinten Strange,” Parsons said. “I’ve liked Quinten Strange for a long time.

“I think he’s great at Tasman, I think he’s got the ability to be a ranging sort of lock, and, as we’ve seen, he’s got a bit of fight in him too. He’s got plenty to like about him as well.”

Having played with and won three consecutive Super Rugby titles with Strange since moving to the Crusaders from the Blues three years ago, Hall agreed with Parsons’ verdict on the 23-year-old.

“If you think about our locking stocks down south, he’s not afraid to talk and give his opinion and is seen, probably, [as] one of the leaders in our group,” Hall said.

“I guess that tactical side as well, he’s pretty knowledgeable and has a really great understanding of rugby as well.”

Listen to the full episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below

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