Unfortunately for Pita Gus Sowakula, the All Blacks No. 8 jersey is not up for grabs
I don’t have too many bad things to say about Pita Gus Sowakula.
In fact, I’m actually going to offer up none.
The Chiefs No.8 is a fine player, who I enjoy watching and wish success.
But, come on, can we ditch the Sowakula for All Blacks chat?
As I say, the man is very good on the carry and wouldn’t disgrace the national side. But if we look at said team and speculate about which positions might be up for grabs, No.8 is not one of them.
Ardie Savea starts there every day of the week and twice on Sundays. He is, by some distance, the best-performed All Black we’ve got.
And we’re going to ditch him for a debutant?
I’ll admit this is a bit of a simplification of what’s actually a semi-complicated scenario, but it wouldn’t hurt for those people spruiking Sowakula’s claims to remember we already have Ardie.
Let’s dig a little deeper then.
Savea is small. Always has been. Well before he was even an All Black, people speculated that he didn’t have the stature to succeed on the highest stage.
Well, at 6, 7 and 8 Savea has shown us otherwise. No matter where the selectors sought to put him in the loose trio, he’s always prospered, always played above his weight, always appeared to try harder than anyone else on the field.
Put simply, Savea’s name is just about the first that goes on the team sheet.
Playing at blindside flanker was done to accommodate then-captain Kieran Read, but I think we’d all agree that Savea’s stint in the No.6 shirt won’t be repeated.
So that leaves 8 and 7.
There will always be those who believe we need a big body on the back of the scrum. That’s fine.
I’d argue that Savea’s leg-drive and relentless intensity are better than putting some lumbering giant there, but I accept the point that size can be an asset at No.8.
The elephant in the room here, as he has been ever since being prematurely appointed captain, is Sam Cane.
Savea could play 7. I’m not sure it would be the best utilisation of his ball-carrying skills – and that he’d invariably pack at No.8 on All Blacks’ attacking scrum ball – but he can definitely do a job there.
Savea at 7 means you can have a Hoskins Sotutu or Sowakula-type No.8, which has its potential advantages.
But are you telling me the selectors are going to can Cane and install someone else as captain? I’d be surprised.
Now history has shown us that Cane isn’t immensely durable, so injury might dictate the situation anyway, but I would venture that Savea and Cane are both in New Zealand’s preferred loose trio and that’s that.
I don’t really see Sowakula as a No.6 and, actually, continue to be encouraged by Tupou Vaa’i’s progress there.
If the All Blacks are to have a big body in the trio, then I’d venture it’ll be someone at 6. That might not be great news for guys such as Dalton Papalii, Luke Jacobson and Ethan Blackadder, but them’s the breaks.
Sowakula is an international-quality rugby player. And, who knows, he might play five or 10 tests for the All Blacks one day.
I think the broader game might benefit more from him playing 60 times for Fiji instead, but you can’t have everything.
Either way, the man has ability and wouldn’t look out of place in the test arena.
But let’s not forget we also have a bloke called Ardie Savea floating about as well.
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