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Questions remain about ABs blindside


Uncertainty lingers as All Blacks still no closer to finding their starting No 6

Well done to Luke Jacobson on his first All Blacks selection.

He played hard-nosed effective rugby for the Chiefs in eight games this season. But, like the All Blacks loose forward mix in general, there are questions that linger.

Jacobson has not played since May 11, for the Chiefs against the Sharks. Thereafter he struggled to shake concussion symptoms, which was a worry as he had spent the latter part of 2018 out of rugby clearing his head.

There were few clues as to his current state of fitness at last night’s All Blacks announcement. Clearly, the All selectors would not have picked him had they any grave doubts about his readiness to play, perhaps as early as the Pumas test on July 21. There was a hint that he is ready to roll, according to Marc Hinton of Stuff, but whether that means he will need to run out for his club side Hautapu this weekend is as mysterious as whether Sonny Bill Williams is still tied to Counties Manukau or not.

Jacobson, for all his eye-catching play for the Chiefs over a two-month period, is probably the beneficiary of the curious decision by Liam Squire to withdraw and the season-ending injury to Tom Robinson, the competition’s rookie of the year.

Is it going to be possible for Squire to prove he is up to international rugby with a few outings for his Marist club in Nelson or a couple of Mako pre-season runs? It just doesn’t seem plausible and, given he is leaving New Zealand Rugby at the end of the year, this could be it for the big bruiser.

Even more curious is the non-selection of both Akira Ioane and Luke Whitelock. That means there is no clear No 8 back-up to skipper Kieran Read. Jacobson started his last game for the Chiefs in that position, while we know Ardie Savea can do a job there. The Hurricane, the best player in Super Rugby 2019, started four of his 16 games for the Canes at the boot of the scrum. That leaves Shannon Frizell, who scored six tries for the Highlanders in 13 games and showed strong early form. But he started just once at No 8.

Other than Ioane, who was in an All Blacks training camp just weeks ago, Jordan Taufua is the big loser. Marginalised at the Crusaders due to the sterling form of Whetu Douglas, it looks like he will never get to wear the All Blacks jersey he was so close to claiming in 2018. Taufua is just plain unlucky.

So there are no less than nine players selected, plus Patrick Tuipulotu and including the admirable Jackson Hemopo, who can suit up at loose forward. And yet we are no clearer to discovering who will be the main man at blindside flanker.

Jacobson is just one piece of that intriguing puzzle. We hope he is right physically to make his mark and show us what he showed from March 15 to May 11.

In other news:

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Uncertainty lingers as All Blacks still no closer to finding their starting No 6
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