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‘Too much responsibility’: All Blacks greats weigh in on Ruben Love debate

By Finn Morton
Ruben Love of the Hurricanes in action during the round one Super Rugby Pacific match between Western Force and Hurricanes at HBF Park, on February 23, 2024, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Legendary All Blacks Jeff Wilson, Mils Muliaina and Sir John Kirwan have unanimously agreed that one of New Zealand’s brightest rugby prospects, Ruben Love, is better off at fullback.

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Love, now 22, debuted for the Hurricanes off the bench in Super Rugby Aotearoa a few years ago before going on to play six matches as the team’s starting No. 10 in 2020.

While the playmaker impressed as one of the Hurricanes’ options at flyhalf, Love slowly began to shift into a new role as he started three matches at fullback the following year.

Injuries aside, Love has played plenty of rugby out the back, including the All Blacks XV’s win over Ireland A in Dublin a couple of years ago and the Hurricanes’ Super Rugby Pacific season-opener in Perth last Friday night.

Love stood out as the Hurricanes ran away with a commanding 44-14 win over the Western Force at HBF Park. But the New Zealander did that at fullback, not at flyhalf.

“I really enjoyed what he’s doing,” former All Black Jeff Wilson said on Sky Sport NZ’s The Breakdown.

“(Last week) I talked about whether he’d play 10 or 15 but at the moment it’s in the 15 jersey for me.

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“I just want him to stay healthy, I said that last week. I really like the skillset, I like his intent, he’s a competitor, you know that… he’s got great feet.

“I’m just really impressed. It was just nice to see him get a good start to the season.”

Match Summary

0
Penalty Goals
2
2
Tries
6
2
Conversions
4
0
Drop Goals
0
96
Carries
112
5
Line Breaks
8
12
Turnovers Lost
14
6
Turnovers Won
6

Love showed some masterful skill to lay the foundations for Jordi Viljoen’s try on debut for the Hurricanes. But that was just one highlight.

The fullback finished the night with an impressive knock on the stat sheet, with Love running the ball seven times for 88 metres and making two line breaks.

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Echoing the sentiment of Wilson’s comments, Rugby World Cup-winning All Black Mils Muliaina said the Hurricanes would be giving Love “too much responsibility” if they chose to move him.

“I think he’s best suited at 15. He’s got that sort of ability,” Muliaina said.

“His flair, and he’s been out for a while, so putting him in at 10 I think just gives him too much responsibility initially but I think his position is fullback.

“The way he attacks, his mindset is to attack first.”

Prompted to add to the discussion by Muliaina, another Rugby World Cup winner agreed that Love is a fullback and that shouldn’t change for now.

“One or the other for me,” Kirwan added.

“I think Barrett can do it, (play) 10 and 15, maybe (Stephen) Perofeta can, but I actually don’t think that everyone can.

“For me, Love needs to stay at fullback if he’s going to have a crack or they need to put him at 10 and he needs to stay there.

“When you’re a mature 10 you can go back, possibly, but I just think he’s got a lot of ability and I like him at 15.”

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Poorfour 3 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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