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The traits that could hand uncapped All Blacks prop a surprise start against Boks

By Sam Smith
Fletcher Newell. (Photo by Martin Hunter/Photosport)

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Don’t be surprised if the latest injury-enforced call-up to the All Blacks earns a surprise berth in the matchday 23 to take on the Springboks this weekend.

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Crusaders prop Fletcher Newell joined Angus Ta’avao and Tyrel Lomax as New Zealand’s three tightheads in South Africa for the coming two-match series and two Super Rugby centurions believe the 22-year-old could be rushed straight into the squad for Saturday’s clash in Mbombela.

With Ofa Tuungafasi and Nepo Laulala both unable to travel, Lomax and Newell will be expected to provide backup for Ta’avao – who was suspended for three matches following a red card during the July tests, but is believed to be available for both tests in South Africa after completing a coaching intervention programme to reduce recidivist high tackles.

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As such, one of Lomax or Newell will be expected to take the field against the world champion Springboks.

Speaking on the lastest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, James Parsons and Bryn Hall believe it could be Newell who has the inside running – especially now that former Crusaders forwards coach Jason Ryan has joined the All Blacks set-up.

“I think he’s clearly got a coach that knows him very well and believes in his skillset so you wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in starting or in that matchday 23,” said Parsons, who played two tests for the All Blacks.

“I think it’d be unfair for us … thinking he’s only there because Jason Ryan knows he’s a good player and had a lot to do with him at the Crusaders. He did perform very well for [the Crusaders] – not just his scrummaging but his effort to get around the corner and take some tough carries against some big opposition and physical opponents. I think he’s got a lot more to his game than just his core basics.”

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Hall, who has been a teammate of Newell’s at the Crusaders for the past two seasons, backed up Parsons’ comments.

“Obviously he’s a very good scrummager and good at set-piece,” Hall said. “He’s actually very mobile for a big man. He’s pretty quick; he’s one of the faster guys in the team when it comes to the first 10 metres so he’s pretty explosive.

“He’s got a great work ethic and he works off the ball, which is really important. Has a pretty good skillset, considering he’s a big man – which you need in this day and age. We talked about the Irish props and how they can have that ball[-playing] ability. Fletcher’s [got that] ability to do that.

“It helps having Jason Ryan over there, knowing what Fletch can do but it’s based on his merits and what he can do for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s named in that 23 for the first test match.”

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Parsons also noted that while earning a start against one of the most formidable forward packs in the world would be a tough ask for the young prop, it might be the easiest way to introduce him to the cauldron that is Test rugby.

“You’d have to think he’s going to be there somewhere and it’s either the old adage of sometimes it’s just easier getting them out there and getting them into it and just [letting them] rip in, and then bringing the experienced guy off the bench.

“But then with such a big test and a lot on the line [it’s impossible to know].”

The All Blacks will name their squad to take on the Springboks for the first match late on Thursday night (NZT).

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