This kid Dallas McLeod is All Black material
The injury-crisis at the Crusaders may have uncovered a genuine option for the All Blacks at second five-eighth in young gun Dallas McLeod, who was exceptional against the Blues in a rare start.
Sometimes a prospect emerges who has all the tools, whilst it would be remiss to hand a black jersey based on one game, McLeod showed he has what it takes to thrust himself into the mix as a World Cup bolter this season with Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Anton Lienert-Brown and Quinn Tupaea on the sidelines.
The caveat is that he needs to maintain the form he showed at Eden Park. Was it just fuelled by the intensity of the Blues-Crusaders rivalry, or was this the real deal?
The 23-year-old barely put a foot wrong as he powered through the Blues, finding weak shoulders and smashing straight through them, showing deft touch to find his outside backs and offered stout defence to control All Black pair Rieko Ioane and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for the most part.
With his first involvement of the game he folded Blues first five Beauden Barrett in an awkward grapple tackle.
The All Black centurion knew he was in trouble and sought the safety of the ground as McLeod had the upper body wrap to attempt to hold him up.
Barrett got the best of him moments later when McLeod went for the intercept.
A double-pump of the pass saw Telea receive the ball behind McLeod’s back, before the Blues wing pulled a Houdini act to evade half the Crusaders team for an incredible try.
McLeod can only take part fault for that, as you will find four other Crusader All Blacks failing to account for Telea during the passage.
The young second five was a dynamic option when he carried, landing on his stomach most of the time as the Blues struggled to contain him.
On his second touch a sharp cut of the right foot had Caleb Clarke beat on the inside and it took three Blues draped over him to bring him down.
After going off the left foot inside Rieko Ioane and James Tucker on his third carry, he boldly lined up reserve prop Jordan Lay and ran right through him with the Blues front rower lucky to get a boot lace tackle in.
The phase before Ethan Blackadder’s try he had the presence of mind to loop a one-hand offload while spinning 360 degrees to keep the ball alive.
He had Clarke pulling his jersey and Perofeta turned in, but he understood a three-on-one was there if he got the ball away.
The pass added another 15 metres of territory and momentum which the Crusaders turned into seven points on the next phase through Blackadder.
He pulled a similar spin move to escape the clutches of Tuivasa-Sheck on the left side, before expertly putting Mo’unga into space which led to Fainga’anuku’s first score.
He nearly scored a brilliant solo try rescuing a series of bad passes well behind the defensive line. Accepting the trash about 35 metres out, he bounced outside Hoskins Sotutu, cut off the left straight past Ricky Riccitelli and broke through a low tackle from Finlay Christie.
He was pulled down only a metre from the goal line before Blues prop Lay was yellow carded for a professional foul preventing a try from an offside position. The Crusaders scored seconds later from the ensuing scrum.
There were three key involvements from McLeod in the first three Crusader tries, while he discarded a handful of current All Black players in the process.
Inside two minutes into the second half he showed a long clearing kick off the right foot, chased down Caleb Clarke in a much-needed cover tackle, showed a bullet-like miss pass from a scrum play in the exit zone and displayed a well-placed left foot grubber kick on the next phase in behind the Blues that Telea failed to clean up.
He was everywhere, doing everything.
The defensive play that showed McLeod is wiser than his years came with 20 minutes to go coming off a Blues scrum.
The Blues ran a launch play used frequently by the All Blacks against the Springboks. It involves the 10-12-14 in tight space with the first five bringing pace onto the ball and attacking the 10-12 channel with two options.
McLeod shaded Tuivasa-Sheck’s line and then followed Barrett’s pass out the back to Telea where he crushed him in a two-man job with Braydon Ennor.
The ball popped up five metres into the air and had to be cleaned up by Christie, who then got dragged 20 metres backward. The Crusaders midfielder read it like a book and forced the Blues into a huge gain line loss.
On the Blues last roll of the dice they ran the same play again, this time Barrett went the short option to Bryce Heem who came on to replace Tuivasa-Sheck.
McLeod read that one too, monstering the Blues replacement in a ball-and-all tackle, holding him up for the game-winning turnover from a collapsed maul.
Was it a perfect showing? No, there were a few misses.
He got beat once by Tuivasa-Sheck on a hard line steaming onto a Barrett short ball and he had a bad angle that contributed to the Blues’ No 12s own try. A beautiful piece of play by Perofeta in the second half got Clarke free by drawing him in.
However, overall this was a commanding performance for a guy with 14 Super caps against the strongest roster in New Zealand against the biggest names.
He finished with 17 tackles from 19 attempts, chopping down All Blacks left, right, and centre including one on Dalton Papalii that put him on his backside and another that tipped the openside over the sideline.
Perhaps most importantly he outplayed his opposite number by some distance.
The All Blacks have been searching for a big frame at No 12 since Sonny Bill Williams retired following the last World Cup. McLeod is about 10kgs lighter but just 1cm shorter than Williams.
They have found a stopgap solution in fullback Jordie Barrett but how about this kid Dallas McLeod too? If the All Blacks midfield injuries persist and he can perform consistently like this over the season, why not?
If he maintains form like this he could be on a plane to France.
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Time to let Moana go. We all know nothing will change. It will be a slow and depressing outcome that will only serve to discredit an already pathetic competition.Go to comments
I would've accompanied these two onto the fieldGo to comments