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The leading candidates to wear the All Blacks No 12 jersey at Eden Park

By Tom Vinicombe
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Jordie Barrett. (Photos by Getty Images)

With David Havili and Quinn Tupaea both forced off the field through injury during the All Blacks‘ last-minute win over the Wallabies in Melbourne, coach Ian Foster could be in need of a new No 12 for next weekend’s rematch at Eden Park.

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Havili lasted just 13 minutes before clashing heads with captain Sam Cane and was immediately replaced by Tupaea. Tupaea didn’t make it to halftime, however, with a dangerous breakdown clearout from Darcy Swain resulting in some serious damage to Tupaea’s left leg.

“David Havili failed an HIA last night at the ground so he’ll go into the normal 12-day protocol,” Foster said the morning after the victory. “Quinn Tupaea has got a ruptured medial ligament and a partial rupture of the ACL. It’s probably a two-to-three-month injury and we will wait to see if it’s operable or it rehabs.”

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With the two specialist second five-eighths off the park, Jordie Barrett shifted into the inside centre role and Beauden Barrett took over at fullback.

Now, with both players ruled out of next Saturday’s fixture, Foster will have to make a call whether to stick with Jordie in the midfield or bring in one of the wider squad members for the All Blacks’ final game of the the Rugby Championship.

Who are the contenders to wear No 12 against the Wallabies at Eden Park?

Jordie Barrett

Long have there been calls for Barrett to get some regular minutes at inside centre for the New Zealand national side.

Barrett spent much of his debut NPC season wearing the No 12 jersey for Canterbury and possesses all the natural traits needed to be a strong second five-eighth. His considerable size would make him a useful midfield battering ram (provided he keeps his head down and doesn’t get caught too upright going into contact) while he can also take some pressure off the No 10 thanks to his well-educated boot.

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Foster has given Barrett a handful of minutes in the second receiver role in the latter stages of some Tests but has never started the 25-year-old in the No 12 jersey. Following Thursday’s victory, the head coach suggested that while there were some good moments from the backline with Barrett at inside centre, things fell apart a little bit as the match wore on:

“Jordie at 12 we know he’s really competent there. We know he’s keen to play there at some point. I thought he did the job pretty well.

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“I liked [the backline reshuffle] through to the 60th minute and then I thought we lost our way a little bit. That sort of stuff is on the cards. It’s not every test you lose two in the same position within such a short time period which was a little bit niggly but I thought the guys adapted well.”

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Is now the time for Barrett to finally be given a proper run at No 12?

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

The man who attracted all the attention at the start of the Super Rugby Pacific season has faded into obscurity somewhat.

Tuivasa-Sheck was one of the most exciting signings of the year and had some excellent moments for the Blues throughout their impressive campaign, partnering well with Rieko Ioane in the midfield.

There were – and remain – some obvious work-ons for the recent rugby league convert, which Foster made mention of again earlier this month:

“He’s a fast learner.

“His work from the attacking side, particularly getting involved around our forwards in the middle of the park is something that he hasn’t spent a lot of time on during Super Rugby so that’s been taking a little while.

“His instincts at the breakdown are probably the number one growth point for him and again, we’re seeing some really good strides in that space.

“Those are some aspects he can go away and work on in that space. Overall, really pleased with the growth but I guess now it’s just waiting for the opportunity.”

In the weeks since, Tuivasa-Sheck has made three additional appearances for Auckland in the NPC  but that won’t necessarily have been enough time to bring him up to speed with the demands of Test rugby. Still, Foster named the former NRL superstar in his squad to kick off the season and that means he should be confident enough to throw him into Test rugby. If Tuivasa-Sheck is seen as a genuine option in the midfield for next year’s Rugby World Cup, then he needs to start getting minutes under his belt for the All Blacks – and that could start next weekend.

Rieko Ioane

It might seem like a decision out of left-field but Rieko Ioane isn’t entirely unfamiliar with the No 12 jersey, having made seven appearances there for the Blues in 2018.

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Of course, shifting Ioane closer to the action would require two changes to the midfield – and the chances of Ioane being asked to move out of his preferred role would depend on whether Foster and Joe Schmidt believe one of Braydon Ennor or Leicester Fainga’anuku would be a better option at No 13 than Barrett or Tuivasa-Sheck would be at inside centre.

Ioane has continued to grow into the midfield role this year and could put his quick acceleration to use to generate some go-forward closer to the breakdown but questions rightly remain whether the 25-year-old has the distribution skills needed to play in the midfield – something which could prove costly if he’s asked to suit up at No 12.

Meanwhile, Fainga’anuku has never featured in the midfield for the All Blacks, having earned his first two appearances for the team in July. Ennor has more experience at No 13 – and was generally preferred there over Fainga’anuku for the Crusaders – but also hasn’t been given a run at No 13 against top opposition, and is only with the squad as cover for the seemingly perpetually injured Jack Goodhue.

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