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The potential All Blacks backline following injuries and 'a couple of tweaks'

By Tom Vinicombe
Jordie Barrett, New Zealand vs Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand 2 July 2022. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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With both Beauden and Jordie Barrett leaving the field early with injuries against the Springboks on Saturday, some significant changes could be on the cards for the All Blacks backline in their rematch this weekend.

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New Zealand and South Africa will meet once more when they take to the field at Ellis Park and although coach Ian Foster hasn’t ruled either Barrett out from the rematch, he has suggested that changes to the team are inevitable.

“We’ll be looking at making a couple of tweaks,” Foster told media the morning following their 26-10 loss suffered at Mbombela Stadium.

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“Jordie’s [got a] bad ankle but not too bad. Beaudie went for a scan last night on his neck. That’s clear so we’ll just make a decision on that later in the week but he’s still a bit sore.”

While there’s an obvious replacement waiting in the wings for Beauden should he be unable to take the field on Saturday, with the well-travelled Richie Mo’unga adding some spark off the bench in the first Test, the options at fullback are somewhat less experienced if Jordie pulls up lame.

Squad members Will Jordan, David Havili and Stephen Perofeta have all worn the No 15 jersey on multiple occasions at Super Rugby level but Havili is the only one of the trio to have slotted into the role for the national side – and even then, only off the bench late in matches. Havili has also operated almost exclusively in the midfield since the beginning of 2021.

Jordan would undoubtedly be the fan-favourite to step into the fullback responsibilities at Ellis Park given his electric work for the Crusaders over the past few seasons, perhaps even if Jordie Barrett remains fit and able.

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As has become apparent over the All Blacks’ past two matches – not to mention a number of occasions last year – Havili is not suited to the No 12 jersey under Foster’s current game plan, with the 27-year-old simply not physical enough to play a crash-and-bash role in the midfield and his normally silky skills unable to be tapped into with international defences more often than not employing a fast-paced rush defence.

Quinn Tupaea is the other specialist second five-eighth on tour in South Africa but the youngster has also struggled under pressure and the answer at No 12 could be none other than Jordie Barrett, who slotted into the role for the Hurricanes regularly throughout their 2021 campaign.

If Barrett moves into inside centre, it opens up the No 15 jersey for one of Jordan or Perofeta.

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Perofeta remains the only player from the initial July squad to have not earned a Test cap this season but a return match against the Springboks at Ellis Park is perhaps not the opportune time to give the 25-year-old a first run for the All Blacks. If Beauden Barrett is out of action, however, a bench spot beckons at the very least.

Of course, if Beauden Barrett is available and his younger brother isn’t then that could see him shift to fullback, where he spent much of the 2019 season, and Richie Mo’unga joining the fray at first five-eighth.

At this stage, Barrett is likely viewed as a safer option at the back than Will Jordan, simply thanks to his experience at Test level.

But if both Barretts are unavailable, Mo’unga can step into No 10, Jordan could take over at fullback, and Sevu Reece could slot into the No 14 jersey with Caleb Clarke retaining his spot on the left wing after a promising showing on Saturday night.

Switching out players in three positions might not be ideal from Foster’s point of view but when the spoils haven’t exactly been forthcoming in recent times, it might be the best thing for the team as a whole.

With the All Blacks confirming Beauden Barrett had not suffered any sort of concussive knock following Kurt-Lee Arendse’s dangerous mid-air challenge, there’s a distinct possibility that both he and his brother could run out once more against the Springboks this weekend. With Foster indicating change could be on the horizon, however, a major switch-up of the backline is also entirely possible.

Will the fans get what they want, with Jordie Barrett running out at second five and Will Jordan finally donning the No 15 jersey? Only time will tell.

Possible All Blacks backline: Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, Caleb Clarke, Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece, Will Jordan.

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