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Will Jordan opens up on competition for All Blacks fullback spot

By Alex McLeod

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All Blacks star Will Jordan has opened up on being denied the chance to play at No 15 for New Zealand by incumbent fullbacks Jordie Barrett and Damian McKenzie.

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Since making his test debut last year, Jordan has been used exclusively as a wing under All Blacks head coach Ian Foster, despite his impressive performances at the back while playing for the Crusaders and Tasman at Super Rugby and NPC level.

Instead, Foster has opted for Barrett and McKenzie as his main two No 15 options this year after abandoning last year’s experiment of having Beauden Barrett at fullback.

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McKenzie and the younger Barrett brother shared the fullback jersey throughout 2021, with the latter ending the test campaign as the preferred candidate at the back after starting in his side’s four major tests against the Springboks, Ireland and France.

Jordan, meanwhile, was used solely as a wing, where he proved himself as a try-scoring machine by dotting down 15 times in 11 tests to earn himself World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year award this week.

Jordan’s form in the No 14 jersey has led to questions as to whether he deserves a chance in his preferred fullback role for the All Blacks, but the 23-year-old maintains that he is happy to play in either position.

In a wide-ranging interview on the What A Lad podcast, hosted by former Hurricanes fullback James Marshall, Jordan said he doesn’t mind playing on the wing, a position less familiar to him, given the standard of competition for the fullback spot.

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“I was just pretty happy just on the wing for the ABs this year,” Jordan told What A Lad.

“It was cool to get a good run of games and string a few together, and I think that helps, rather than sort of playing one and then you’re in and out of the team, so that was cool.

“I haven’t actually played too much wing before, so, just on the back of that continuity stuff, it was cool to be able to take some learnings from game-to-game.

“In terms of the wing v fullback stuff, it’s a bit sort of either or for me. I enjoy playing fullback for the Crusaders, and that’s sort of where I’ve played most of my footy, but, if it’s on the wing for the ABs, then that’s happy days as well.

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“Pretty good cattle around fullback especially at the moment, so I’ll let them duel it out there.”

While it comes as little surprise that Jordan has been retained as a wing by the All Blacks due to his incredible strike rate, the man himself revealed he has encountered some challenges while making the positional switch.

The 13-test international said perhaps the biggest adjustment he has had to make while moving from fullback to wing is staying focused for the entirety of the match while having less involvement on the action.

Jordan told What A Lad that being a wing often means he doesn’t have as much influence on the match as he would as a fullback, which he said caused him to “drift in and out of games” for the All Blacks this year.

He attributed his struggles to stay mentally sharp throughout test matches in recent months as a reason behind some occasionally below-par showings, such as his side’s first Rugby Championship test against the Springboks in September.

Although they eventually emerged 19-17 victors in Townsville, the All Blacks struggled to deal with South Africa’s persistent aerial bombardment and competitiveness in the collision area, leading to uncharacteristic errors and interrupted game play.

Jordan was one of a handful of players who were subsequently dropped for the following week’s rematch on the Gold Coast, and he said that fixture proved to be a key lesson in his development as an All Black and an outside back.

“One thing I learned this year, just in terms of the on-field stuff, is just how important it is to be on for every game, which seems obvious, but within a tour or a 15-game season, it does happen where, mentally, you drift in and out of games or your mindset is not quite right,” Jordan told What A Lad.

“That was probably something I noticed from that South African game where I didn’t have the best game.

“It wasn’t like I wasn’t prepared for the game or I wasn’t mentally up for it, but it was just a good lesson for me on how important it is to just nail your prep every week and just really be physically up for the challenge.

“I think that’s the thing with test footy. If you’re not physically up for it, then you’ll get found out.

“I think that’s something that I’ve not struggled with, but had to come to terms with more playing on the wing this year as opposed to fullback.

“At fullback, you’re just in the game a bit more, just because you’re closer in the field, the ball’s getting kicked to you a lot and that sort of thing, whereas there were games this year where, in the first half, I’d barely touched the nut and play would never go my way.

“There were a couple of times where I’d come into the shed at half-time and go, ‘Jeez, I need to get involved in the game, I need to get stuck in’.

“It wasn’t a case of I hadn’t been looking for it or getting off my wing, but it’s just the way it went, so that’s particularly important, if you have had a quiet five or 10 minutes, to mentally stay on so when you do get your opportunity, you’re ready to take it, because how often do you finally see a team get to the ball and they’ll drop it straight away?

“Particularly on the wing, that’s something that I’d really be aware of.”

Listen to Will Jordan’s interview on the What A Lad podcast below:

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