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The three key All Blacks selections as they take on the Springboks

By Mike Rehu

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With the All Blacks making 11 changes in their team and seamlessly forming combinations to beat the Pumas for the second week running, ex-ESPN producer and Sky TV commentator and director Mike Rehu ponders which way the selectors could go for this week’s mouth-watering match up against South Africa.

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What a great headache for the All Black selection team, a squad of 35 athletes with all of them assertively stating their cases for the 23 positions in the match day squad against the world champion South Africans this coming Saturday.

Some positions are locked in stone, especially with the need for experience with some senior players missing the tour but for me there are three positions that will cause the most discussion. They are hooker, number 8 and centre.

Hooker

Samisoni Taukei’aho made the most of his start against Los Pumas with a performance that showcased his power and accuracy.

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He kept popping up on the right wing and causing havoc but also manhandled people in centre-field. One try, 11 carries for 59 metres and top tackler for his team when he left the field is an overwhelming statement.

Furthermore, his core role of scrummaging and lineout throwing was error-free and that’s been an area of concern in the past. He is one player who looks bigger and more intimidating in a black jersey.

It seemed strange to learn that Asafo Aumua was making his starting debut in the round three game of the Rugby Championship, he has been around for almost four years in and out of the squad but living in the shadow of Dane Coles and Codie Taylor.

He didn’t disappoint with his opportunity, bravely rampaging to the line and showing his tenacity and toughness.

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I was talking to a crafty ex-lock last week and he reckons Aumua has a “show” on his long throws and hence the reason Petti was able to grab some of his long darts to the back.

This meant New Zealand lived on a supply of ball from the front which curtailed some of their attacking potency.

Taylor made a tentative return on Saturday after a head knock, trying to solve the riddle of how to reach the peak again.

It certainly has been an interesting journey for him this year where he burst out of the blocks at the start of the year with some of the best performances by a hooker we’ve ever seen in Super Rugby and ending up the top try-scorer.

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The international season has seen him sustain a plateau but not the WOW! factor.

Prediction. The selectors will know big games bring out the best in veterans and this could be the match up to stir Taylor’s riiraa? (physical strength) and ihi (excitement and power). Codie to start, Samisoni to give it all in the last half hour.

No 8

Ex-All Black Ofisa Tonu’u remarked on social media that he hadn’t seen a try from the scrum move like TJ Perenara’s for some time.

The set up by Hoskins Sotutu drew comparisons back to when Zinzan Brooke operated at No 8 when he thrilled crowds with his skill, often combining with Tonu’u.

At times, Sotutu has shown similar attributes to the legend and certainly returned to some great fettle last weekend with two try assists and superb distribution from the base of a sturdy scrum.

The week before we saw Luke Jacobson selected at No 8 after Ardie Savea’s HIA encounter and his performance was what we have some to expect from him.

A great mix of toughness and puissance with his midfield running; two tries, 14 carries for 64 metres, second-highest tackles behind Retallick and a slew of clean breaks and defenders beaten. At pace!

Perhaps the biggest surprise in his contribution was seven of the 16 lineout balls taken by the team, providing a steady source of pill at the front.

That brings us to the skipper Ardie Savea and straight off his concussion break he was thrown in to the No 7 jersey and he relished the change.

He was the top ball carrier in the forwards and showed some flair with a lovely chip and chase just before halftime but sadly, that dramatic dummy has not been sold for some time!

Prediction. As Ardie and Akira are shoo-ins for two of the loose forward spots, the showdown in the selectors minds must be between Dalton Papalii and Luke Jacobson.

You can have Dalton’s industry and defensive prowess with Ardie at No 8 or Jacobson’s ball-carrying, lineout ability and concrete shoulders at No 8 and the skip at No 7.

I suggest they’ll go the way of Jacobson; this trio played the second test against Fiji and looked like a cohesive unit. That leaves Papalii with a showdown with Blackadder for a bench position, or dare we talk about a 6-2 bench split for the Kiwis?

Centre

Anton Lienert-Brown mentioned in a television interview he’s attempting to run and train with the hamstring injury but the All Blacks’ selectors have shown they won’t rush back players if there’re strong options available to them.

Braydon Ennor is percolating nicely in his return from a couple of debilitating setbacks in the last year. He came off the bench and looked the part and isn’t far away from being thrown a start. Always a handy bench option to cover centre, wing and fullback at a pinch.

Rieko Ioane’s form has been magnificent and his pairing with Havili has the “iron fist and velvet glove” look about it.

In statistical terms, his contribution has been immense; he’s leading the clean breaks count with his brother and has amassed almost 100 more metres than anyone else in the competition.

A match up against Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am will test his defensive nous, something that critics tend to spotlight as a frailty.

Prediction. The selectors know this is a long campaign beyond the Rugby Championship, so it would be logical for them to select Rieko at 13, leave ALB at least one more week to recover and look to change it up in the sixth round.

So a match day 23 could look something like this:

15. Jordie Barrett, 14. Will Jordan, 13. Rieko Ioane, 12. David Havili, 11. George Bridge, 10. Beauden Barrett, 9. TJ Perenara, 8. Luke Jacobson, 7. Ardie Savea, 6. Akira Ioane, 5. Scott Barrett, 4. Brodie Retallick, 3. Nepo Laulala, 2. Codie Taylor, 1. Joe Moody.

16. Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17. George Bower, 18. Angus Ta’avao, 19. Tupou Vaa’i, 20. Dalton Papalii, 21. Brad Weber, 22. Damian McKenzie, 23. Quinn Tupaea.

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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The three key All Blacks selections as they take on the Springboks

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