All Blacks selector Grant Fox has conceded New Zealand’s locking stocks have been stretched thin as the announcement of the first national squad looms on the horizon.
The unavailability of both Brodie Retallick and Scott Barrett have hurt the nation’s depth in the second row, as the later continues to enjoy his two-season sabbatical, while the latter remains sidelined with a toe injury.
Speaking to Newstalk ZB, Fox revealed Barrett may even be ruled out of All Blacks contention this year, with his injury – sustained in an internal warm-up clash prior to Super Rugby Aotearoa – keeping him out of action for between three and four months.
“The big Guzzler [Brodie Retallick] is having some time out to play in Japan, Sam [Whitelock] came back early, so we are grateful to have him back,’’ Fox said.
“Patty [Tuipulotu] is playing the house down but Scooter, Scotty Barrett, is injured, and injured for a long time. We may not get him at all this year.
“So, all of a sudden, our depth is really getting tested there.’’
As such, at least two new locks are expected to be named alongside Whitelock and Tuipulotu in the first All Blacks squad of the year, which will be announced on August 30, the day after the North vs South clash at Eden Park.
Who exactly will join the two incumbent second rowers is unknown, but Fox hinted that the All Blacks selectors are on the hunt for an athletic lock who can provide a point of difference to the “toilers” who have dominated Super Rugby Aotearoa this season.
“We are not overly blessed in the locking department with big, strong athletic men,’’ Fox said.
“We have lots of guys who are a good physical size, who are great toilers who roll their sleeves up and get stuck in but in our view we can’t have everybody of the same ilk.
“We needs some contrast in that.’’
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Standing at 2.04m and 119kg, young Highlanders lock Pari Pari Parkinson could well be the man to fit Fox’s bill given his imposing physical dimensions and impressive displays for the southern franchise.
As the tallest second rower in New Zealand, Parkinson has proven to be a valuable asset in the Highlanders’ set piece, sitting in third-place for lineout takes in the league (17), trailing Chiefs duo Mitchell Brown and Lachlan Boshier with 19 wins apiece.
His physical prowess in general play has also caught the eye, which may be enough to twist the arm of Fox and his fellow selectors.
Who out of Parkinson and the other locks who have featured regularly in Super Rugby Aotearoa such as Josh Goodhue, James Blackwell and Mitchell Dunshea will be picked to accompany Tuipulotu and Whitelock in the national set-up remains to be seen.
But, with three more weeks of competition and a North vs South clash to come, there is plenty on the line for New Zealand’s uncapped tall men to play for over the next month.
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