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'Versatility isn't going to help us': Why the All Blacks need a specialist No 12

By Luke Petherick
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

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With only six weeks left to go before the All Blacks take on Ireland in a three-test series, debate about All Black selections is starting to heat up.

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Of all the positions to select, who will get first nod to start at second-five against the Irish remains arguably the hottest point of discussion as a number of players find themselves in strong form for their Super Rugby Pacific franchises.

Speaking on Sky Sport’s The Breakdown, former All Blacks Jeff Wilson, Mils Muliaina and Sir John Kirwan shared their views on who they believe is the right selection at second-five for the All Blacks.

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“There are so many guys who are performing. I hope we have the courage to look at the options available to us and one of those is Jordie Barrett,” Wilson said.

“When I sat down and put together an All Blacks side, thinking about who’s going to play when and where, I looked at it and thought we have so much versatility in our team, we have got so many guys who can play multiple positions.”

“The Hurricanes have decided it’s not a bad idea to play Jodie Barrett at 12, with Josh Moorby being in such great form.

“I look at that and I think to myself, ‘What is it we are looking for, how is it we want to play and how do we incorporate the talent?’ For me, I look at Jordie Barrett as an excellent option at 12.”

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Muliaina weighed in with his views of Barrett’s efforts at second-five, saying he brings a “different style” to other midfield contenders and it may be that he makes the No 12 jersey his own given the impressive form of Crusaders star Will Jordan.

“I think he actually has proven that he can slot in there, and he’s probably a victim of circumstance,” Muliaina told The Breakdown.

“You look at the fact that Anton Lienert-Brown is out, Goodhue is coming into form, I think he [Jordie Barrett] brings a different style, and the reason why he has is because he’s had stability.

“He’s had momentum staying in the position for a number of weeks for the Hurricanes. I think he can actually transform that into the All Blacks. The problem when you get to the All Blacks is it’s such a hard position to go chopping and changing.

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“Jordie’s mindset now has to be, ‘Am I going to be a genuine second-five-eighth and is Ian Foster going to pick me?’, and have that discussion because last year he was a fullback.

“Given the fact Will Jordan is playing so well, maybe it is a fix.”

Kirwan, who has previously advocated for the selection of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at No 12, is primarily concerned with consistent selecting a team and giving them enough time together to gel ahead of next year’s World Cup in France.

“We’ve just got to pick a test side and stick with it,” Kirwan told The Breakdown.

“Seriously, besides injury, I don’t believe we should worry about versatility anymore… I seriously don’t think versatility is going to help us moving forward.

“My point is, if you put Jordie there, he has got to stay there for 10 tests, because he has to get used to it. This is the biggest challenge that the All Blacks selectors have.

“In at least 10 [out of the 18 tests leading up to the 2023 World Cup], the All Blacks have to play together. If you go Jordie… or If you pick Roger, he’s going to need time in that position, he is going to have to play all this season.”

Among all this discussion, Wilson made note that the sheer number of contenders for the position means there is no obvious first-choice pick at No 12, but implored the All Blacks selectors to have the courage to pick based Super Rugby Pacific form.

“It’s a highly-congested spot. You’ve got the likes of Roger Tuivasa Sheck, you’ve got Jack Goodhue who is coming back, David Havili, who played in that 12 jersey so much last season, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Quinn Tupuea,” he said.

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“If you start looking at the back-to-back performances and the skillsets, the thing that is important to me is to create from the second-five position.

“It’s to be able to get over the advantage line, it’s to be able to carry strongly. We know Jodie Barrett can do that, we know Thomas Umaga-Jensen can do that.

“Jordie Barrett’s ability to offload, the last guy we had that in that position, who was 6’4” or 6’5”, his name was Sonny Bill Williams.”

“Jordie Barrett is a talent with the ability to offload. We have started to see it from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

“I’m just looking at it and going, ‘Are we going to have the courage to look at the form of these guys in Super Rugby?’, otherwise there’s no point them even looking.”

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