Selection headaches loom for Ian Foster.
Those under consideration for the fullback role when Wales hit these shores are: Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett, Damian McKenzie and David Havili. Much will depend on whether Foster uses the older Barrett as a No 10, where he will play for the Blues, or whether he will revert to the 2019 experiment, which worked quite well, of having Richie Mo’unga running the cutter at first five, while Barrett can cut some shapes from the back.
If we take it that the impressive Crusader Havili will only make the cut if there are injuries, then either Damian McKenzie or Barrett the Younger will be the unlucky man in an All Blacks match-day squad.
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I’m a fan of both Jordie Barrett and McKenzie and the latter would likely have made the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad were it not for his untimely knee injury. He made a pleasing return to action for the Chiefs against the Crusaders last weekend, playing the full game, giving the last pass for Solomon Alaimalo’s try, putting on the razzle with a (slightly unnecessary but aesthetically sweet) reverse pass, and tackling gamely.
So, given a few matches to get up to full speed, McKenzie will be a lock for the All Blacks? Surely? Not so fast.
The next day I watched Jordie Barrett land a monster of a penalty goal of at least 63m for the Hurricanes against the Jaguares. The ball cleared the crossbar by a good 10m and sailed over the in-goal on the full.
My first thought was to jump on Google to check on Buenos Aires’ altitude. 25m, not quite the 1339m of Pretoria’s Loftus. That was just a mighty strike from a well-built kicker.
My second thought was that in the 2009 Tri Nation test match in Hamilton (altitude: not high), Francois Steyn landed three bombs from 59m, 57m and 52m to help sink the All Blacks as part of the greatest display of goalkicking (along with Dan Carter) I have seen in a big match.
My third thought was that Jordie Barrett’s strike belongs in good company with men like Don Clarke, Pierre Villepreux, Paul Thorburn and Steyn himself.
McKenzie is a fine goalkicker himself, but 63m is well outside his range.
Then I thought about how it would be nigh on impossible, or just downright dangerous, to leave Jordie Barrett out of an All Blacks squad. In 2019, he started for the All Blacks in three different positions, in eight tests, though none in his preferred fullback slot, even showing he can do a job at first five. In effect, he could play test rugby in no less than six backline positions, not including halfback. Find me a versatile back anywhere in the planet who can do that.
Hurricanes coach Jason Holland has flagged that Barrett will be mainly used at fullback by his franchise and will take the lion’s share of the kicks. Why wouldn’t he?
McKenzie can play in two positions, both of them very well. He is a firecracker of a footballer, but you cannot carry all four of himself, B Barrett, J Barrett and Mo’unga in a match-day squad of 23. Not when a critical penalty goal on the All Blacks’ side of halfway may be required.
Sorry, D Mac fans, that could be the reality he is facing in about four months.
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