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Where Mark Telea’s absence will hurt the All Blacks the most

By Kim Ekin
Mark Telea and Leicester Fainga'anuku sing the New Zealand national anthem. Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

A breach in team protocol has landed Mark Telea a stint on the sideline for the All Blacks’ biggest Test in four years.


In his place steps the imposing figure of Leicester Fainga’anuku. It’s a replacement that doesn’t compromise much in the way of X-factor, but of course, it’s not the only piece of the puzzle to reshuffle.

The impact unit, which was likely to include Fainga’anuku in the 23 jersey, now features Anton Lienert-Brown as midfield cover. Against Uruguay, Fainga’anuku was handed some late minutes in the midfield as an audition for that final bench spot in the quarter-final. 

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The winger was superb throughout the match and upon shifting into the centres, continued his demolition of the Uruguayan defence. The position amplified his defensive strengths – reading the play and getting over the ball – while better hiding his defensive weakness – lateral quickness and getting burnt on the outside.

The performance didn’t guarantee Fainga’anuku’s bench role as predominantly midfield cover, but it did offer some peace of mind for the coaches should an injury or a red card sideline Jordie Barrett or Rieko Ioane.

The 24-year-old’s form is simply too good to ignore and demanded a place in the matchday 23.

Elsewhere, in the final round of pool play, Scotland were dismissed by the All Blacks’ quarter-final opponent, Ireland.

It was clinical and ruthless by the Irish, who resisted phase after phase of Scottish attack, surrendering very few metres before ultimately winning a breakdown turnover – as they do better than any team in the world.


At one point, Scotland ran up 18 phases only to have the ball stolen and any direct reward for their efforts ripped away by the patient and disciplined Irish defence.

It wasn’t until the 63rd minute when Scotland scored, and then again one minute later. Those tries were earned half an hour earlier, through each one of those gruelling 18 phases.

That is the blueprint for an All Blacks win.

Defence is exhausting, Ireland may be the world’s best at it, but they are human, and absorbing the kind of firepower New Zealand possesses will take its toll.

And so, the challenge for New Zealand in the first 60 minutes will be securing the ball for enough phases to slowly empty the green machine’s tank, without leaking too many points before an onslaught in the final quarter.


The All Blacks are yet to concede a try in the first half of their Rugby World Cup games, and as thorough as their loss to South Africa was at Twickenham, their opening period of defence repelled the Springboks’ red zone attack for a respectable time.

It’s a significant stat, because if the All Blacks can withstand the early pressure and head into the final quarter within one or two tries of the lead, they’ll sniff opportunity.

Team Form

Last 5 Games

Tries Scored
Points Difference
First Try
First Points
Race To 10 Points

While Anton Lienert-Brown is a world-class midfielder and will add energy and proven defensive prowess to the All Blacks backline, there is no substitute for power, and Leicester Fainga’anuku brings a lot of it.

Along with the mercurial running threat of Damian McKenzie, Fainga’anuku has the potential to turn a match on its head and punish tiring defenders with elite finishing ability.


Mark Telea deserves his starting role, he is the best all-around option for New Zealand on the left wing. His aerial skills and defence are both superior to Fainga’anuku’s, while his ability to make metres out of nowhere is at times alien.

An All Blacks outfit complete with the danger of their first-choice starting unit, along with the reserve impact of the hat-trick hero of the Uruguay match would have the best chance of pushing Ireland to the very brink. Whether it would have been enough, we’ll never know.

The objective of tiring the Irish defence demands a far more efficient breakdown and kicking game than the All Blacks have shown to date.

Fainga’anuku’s work carrying around the breakdown will win front foot ball, provided his teammates can secure it. Telea’s snipes and extra metres around the ruck have, on many occasions, resulted in a turnover due to the All Blacks’ less polished skillset in more dynamic breakdown situations. Fainga’anuku is likely to find the same fate if there hasn’t been significant growth in that area since the France Test.

New Zealand’s best chance of beating Ireland lies in the final 20 minutes of the quarter-final. Unfortunately, their ability to execute in that final quarter just lost a major spark.


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Scott 283 days ago

Kim Ekin obviously does not follow the All Blacks closely as Anton Lienart-Brown was always going to be wearing the 23 jersey, not Fianga’anuka.

Telea’s suspension simply opened the door to bring in a power runner to come off his wing all test long and challenge the Irish midfield.

KiwiSteve 284 days ago


ruff 284 days ago

Yeah nah…ourbest chance of winning is to score more points than them. It doesn't matter when you score them.
( this applies to both teams)

Ben 284 days ago

Sexton is brilliant tactical kicker but this NZ team very good in the air and fair line-out players, if Ireland kick for field position and NZ get ball into open space in counter attack, Ireland will be in for a long afternoon.

Poe 284 days ago

So. Didn't quite see which bit will ‘hurt’ NZ? Guy is a different form of threat. I'd say he is ideal for Ireland. Alb was always going to be on the bench and so? Lots of people would have started Alb and kept Ioane on the bench.

B.J. Spratt 284 days ago

Kim Ekin . . .”New Zealand’s best chance of beating Ireland lies in the final 20 minutes of the quarter-final. Unfortunately, their ability to execute in that final quarter just lost a major spark”

New Zealand’s best chance lies in the First 20 minutes not the last 20m minutes.

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Jon 5 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson may need to ease big names aside for All Blacks' flexibility

> it was apparent Robertson was worried about his lack of experience at half-back, hence the decision to start veteran TJ Perenara and put Finlay Christie, the next most experienced number nine, on the bench. I don’t think it was this at all. It was a general scope he was putting over all the playerbase, he went with this cohesion factor in every position. > If the main priority is to build different tactical elements to the gameplan, then Ratima is the man in whom Robertson needs to trust and promote. This also I think is antagonist towards the reference game plans. The other plans do not need the speed of which Perenara (atleast) can’t provide, and I think personal is going to be the main point of difference between these games/opponents. That is the aspect of which I think most people will struggle to grasp, a horses for course selection policy over the typical ‘Top All Black 15’. That best 15 group of players is going to have to get broken down into categories. So it test one we saw Christie control the game to nullify the English threats out of existence and grind to a win. In test two we saw Ratima need to come on which dictated that this time they would run them off their feet with speed and the space did open up and the victory did come. Horses for courses. The same concepts are going to exist for every group, front row, lock and loose forward balance, midfield, and outside backs all can have positional changes that the players may be asked to accentualize on and develop. There might be some that _it_ will not ever click for, but they’ll hopefully still be getting to enjoy unbelievable comeback victories and late game shutouts to close it down. Knowing does not mean not enjoying.

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