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'You can't take too many risks': Pundits project areas of concern for All Blacks XV

By Ned Lester
Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images

Pundits on The Breakdown pinpointed the Halfback selections for the All Blacks XV as an area where selection will determine the true purpose of the newly instated New Zealand secondary team.

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With veteran halfbacks TJ Perenara and Brad Weber missing out on All Black selection so far this season, their inclusion in the XV side could bring critical leadership to the development team.

On the other hand, promoting those players to the All Blacks while relegating the likes of Folau Fakatava could give the young halfback more playing time, after only seeing 10 minutes of action so far this international season.

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The direction that selectors will take when recruiting the All Blacks XV remains somewhat of a mystery, so to put some context to the situation, ex-All Black halfback Justin Marshall shared his overview of the situation:

“Importantly,” Marshall said. “What we need to make sure that people are aware of, is this is basically an All Blacks selection, so the All Blacks selectors are selecting it.

“Leon (McDonald)’s coaching it, he said that he’ll sit in on (selection) and he might have a little bit of input into some players but that’s a side that they (Ian Foster and co) are selecting so they will be looking for players that they want to see more of, some players that they’ve seen enough of might be unlucky, and then it’s how far do they go development and youth-wise?”

Sir John Kirwan was adamant the selections should favour playing time for fringe All Blacks who would likely be injury cover for next year’s World Cup.

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“Do you send some of your All Blacks, numbers 30 to 36 that have been in and around the squad and haven’t played?” Kirwan said. “(Stephen) Perofeta comes to mind straight away, Fakatava…

“There’s two games, do you play them at nine and ten because you need them to actually play some footy at the highest level or are you going to take them on the Northern tour and they’re going to sit on the bench or not play?

“Otherwise, do you take some experience and a whole lot of young guys? I think they’ll be thinking of the World Cup so we might see some of the guys that’ll be disappointed not to make the All Blacks squad.”

Kirwan also shared a little “whisper” he’d heard regarding selection:

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“(I) don’t know a lot about this young man but Levi Aumua, I’ve heard that he got the envelope under the door; ‘don’t name yourself available for Samoa or Fiji because we’ve got some sights on you’.”

“You could also take someone like TJ Perenara just to be the great leader that he is and make sure that they understand the importance and the responsibility of winning in that jersey, because it won’t be easy.”

While Kirwan expressed excitement for the opportunity created by an extra travelling team, he wasn’t convinced naming it the All Blacks XV was the right direction to take as far as maximising the development potential for the squad.

“I would rather they went away as the Baabaa’s (Barbarians) because you do have that All Black brand on their chest which means you can’t take too many risks.”

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Mils Muliaina agreed the midfield was an area of concern for the All Blacks that the coaches should look to address in the All Blacks XV.

“I think if you look at it from an All Black point of view, where are the positions they want to see?

“For me, it’s guys in the midfield, because we’ve been hurt a lot, we still haven’t realised who’s going to cover the centre position should Rieko Ioane go down so that’s an area where they gotta bolster up in some sort of way and say ‘well we’ll pick someone that we think we want to go and see them before the Rugby World Cup’.

“Halfback’s probably another one, you know that third spot, who gets that because there’s so much competition so if you’re picking a (Finlay) Christie and an Aaron Smith for the All Blacks and Fakatava is obviously the third halfback, do you send Fakatava and someone totally different as opposed to sending a Brad Weber?

“I think you leave the likes of Brad Weber and TJ Perenara behind.

“Those guys don’t necessarily need to play themselves into the All Blacks, I think you give them that time off to then really energise for next year.

“They’ve seen enough of them, they know their experience so let’s see these (younger) guys.

“Then, I think there’s a mixture, of the future and that for me really is key.

“I think in terms of a Rugby World Cup, the All Black coaches will be thinking particularly centre is going to be our biggest issue and we’ve had to try and find a couple of pairs.”

Justin Marshall then shifted focus to beyond the World Cup, knowing that there will inevitably be a number of current All Blacks retiring or taking contracts overseas.

“I’m thinking of players that can play at Rugby World Cup should we need them or are going to be All Blacks post World Cup, because we’re going to have an exodus, there’s no doubt about it, always happens and quite a lot of these All Blacks are well into their 30’s.

“So, I totally agree with what Mils said, I would go down the pathway of putting TJ (Perenara) or Brad Weber in the All Blacks on the end-of-year tour and I would put Fakatava and Perofeta into that 15.

“They still – because they’re in the UK, should there be injuries – (can) slot into the All Blacks should they be needed.

“You know what Brad Weber’s going to give you but we haven’t seen enough of Fakatava, we haven’t seen enough of Perofeta, they need game time in big stadiums like in Tottenham Hot Spur Stadium against good opposition like the Barbarians and Irish 15.

“So, I would go down that pathway but I’d also take someone like Fabian Holland, this guy was monumental last night and he’s been developing brilliantly, he’s in the system, he’s a big man and we need big, strong ball carriers and I think he’s the type of player that could be one of those bolters they take along.

“The other one I just want to speak about is – along the Perofeta, Fakatava line -is Damian McKenzie, he’s suffering a little bit from that Japan syndrome, he’s not quite back to where he was in my mind.

“He’s probably better to go into that All Blacks XV and get game time, I don’t know whether it’s at 10 or 15 but we need to find out where he sits for the All Blacks come next year and that might not be anywhere but it might be ‘man we forgot how good this guy is’.”

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