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Wayne Smith offers solution to All Blacks 'uncertain' 10/12 axis which hasn't helped Mo'unga

By Sam Smith
(Photos By Sam Barnes/Sportsfile via Getty Images and David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Former All Blacks assistant Wayne Smith is regarded as one of the best attacking minds in the game, but he has insisted that his time in the international game is done and wouldn’t take a request from Ian Foster to come back if it came.

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In a wide-ranging interview with Stuff.co.nz‘s Mark Reason, Smith was asked whether he would answer an SOS call and also gave his opinion on a number of the challenges facing the All Blacks including the selection of who should play at 12 ahead of the next World Cup.

Last year Mo’unga’s Crusaders teammate David Havili was given the most time at 12, but Havili himself had just completed his first full season of Super Rugby in the role.

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Young Chiefs midfielder 21-year-old Quinn Tupaea was the other second five selected and debuted against Tonga and featured in six tests.

Smith said there ‘has been a lot of uncertainty around the 10/12 axis’ last season which has not helped players like first five Richie Mo’unga settle in the side, as it seemed ‘every time’ he played he has had a different man outside of him.

“You do need continuity once you settle on the right people,” Smith explained, before floating Chiefs centre Anton Lienert-Brown as a solution.

“I’d like to see someone like Anton Lienert-Brown given a chance for an extended period. What I like about Anton Lienert-Brown is he has a high skill level, high work rate, he off loads really well in the contact, keeps the ball alive. He’s smart in defence. He covers other people.”

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Smith was integral in bringing Lienert-Brown to the Chiefs after the young centre impressed as a schoolboy. When he cracked the All Blacks in 2016, Smith was a part of the coaching set-up and got the chance to work with him again.

Whilst at times Lienert-Brown can run unconventional lines, Smith said it is on the players to build chemistry and combinations with each other by forming deeper working relationships and with Lienert-Brown that would be no different.

His take on Havili was that he is a ‘highly skilled’ player who showed promise in the early games but ‘went off a wee bit’ as the season trailed on against the top European sides.

“I also like David Havili as a player. He’s highly skilled, he’s a good team man. I like the fact he was given some games. They seemed to chop and change there a bit. He was good in those early games. Then, I don’t know if the season was a bit long, but he went off a wee bit.

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The long-term solution tabled by Smith was to re-look at fullback Jordie Barrett as a midfielder at 12. He believed that lowering the legal tackle height will be a boon for Barrett, as a tall body his offloading will get the green light as defenders can’t wrap high.

“One out of the box I reckon they could look at long term is Jordie Barrett as a 12. Particularly if they lower the tackle height which I think they will. It’s going to bring in the offload,” he said.

“And when New Zealand won the World Under-20 Championship with Jordie, that’s where he played. Second-five. He starred with Canterbury and that’s where he played, second-five.

“I’d really like to see him given a go there. He’s nice and tall, he can get the offload away. He’s strong.

“He’s one who could change the game a wee bit. His crossfield kicks are good. And the other thing is that at second-five often the decision is made for you when you get the ball. In some ways it’s an easier position to play.”

Barrett was one of the best All Blacks performers in 2021 with a standout aerial game that was reliable under the high ball at the back.

If he were to be moved from fullback into 12, it could potentially create another headache trying to replace what he brings at 15, but such as the talent of Barrett the move would likely be successful.

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