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FEATURE Shannon Frizell could prevent the All Blacks leaving France empty handed

Shannon Frizell could prevent the All Blacks leaving France empty handed
8 months ago

It’s an almost unprecedented turn of events given what’s unfolded over the past four years, but it appears that much of New Zealand’s World Cup hopes lie on the shoulders of Shannon Frizell.

The 29-year-old blindside flanker initially missed out on selection for the 2019 tournament after first making his Test debut in 2018 and with a number of young, hungry loose forwards putting in strong performances throughout Super Rugby during that time, it appeared that Frizell’s time in black might have already prematurely come to an end.

An injury to Luke Jacobson, however, handed Frizell a reprieve. He was called into the squad for the 2019 tournament and while he didn’t feature in any of the All Blacks’ major clashes throughout the competition, he was still fully involved in camp and managed to chalk up three starts against Canada, Namibia and Wales.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read called time on his Test career following the 2019 World Cup. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)

The following season, with Kieran Read now departed, New Zealand were looking for a third man to round out the trio that already included Sam Cane and Ardie Savea, and Frizell appeared to be locked in a two-way race with Akira Ioane.

With Frizell battling injuries and suspension in 2021, Ioane appeared to have taken hold of the No 6 jersey – although the likes of Jacobson, Dalton Papali’i and Ethan Blackadder all spent time in the role.

Any suggestion that Ioane’s selection had been cemented was thrown out the window at the start of 2022, however, when the All Blacks selectors rolled out a different blindside flanker in each of the three matches played against Ireland in July.

Scott Barrett was given first crack, with the All Blacks recording a resounding 42-19 victory at Eden Park. A week later, Papali’i was handed the No 6 jersey but a red card to Angus Ta’avao forced changes in the loose forward trio, with Ireland eventually going on to record a historic 23-12 win. In the final match of the tour – the decider – Barrett was initially reinstated on the flank but had to withdraw through injury. Ioane was called in to start in Barrett’s place and Ireland went on to batter NZ 32-22.

It was Frizell – on the mend from injury – the selectors seemingly decided once and for all was the man to help the All Blacks out of a relatively deep pit, having lost three of their opening four matches of the season.

Ioane was one of New Zealand’s better performers on the night, scoring a well-taken try from 20 metres out, but that loss appeared to be the beginning of the end for the Blues loosie.

In the All Blacks’ next match against the Springboks in Mbombela, Ioane was given another opportunity on the blindside flank but that was to be his last start in the first-choice line-up.

It was Frizell – on the mend from injury – the selectors seemingly decided once and for all was the man to help the All Blacks out of a relatively deep pit, having lost three of their opening four matches of the season.

Although Frizell didn’t set the world alight, he ticked off all his core duties in NZ’s 35-23 revenge win at Ellis Park the following week, and that appeared to be all that coach Ian Foster – whose head was very much on the chopping block – needed to see from his blindside flanker.

The rest of the season followed a similar trend, with Frizell going about his work with not too much fuss, but doing enough to justify to the selectors his place in the run-on side. The fans may not have been too happy with the ongoing selection of the Highlanders flanker, but Foster and co have rarely looked to the fans for advice.

Shannon Frizell has consistently been one of the Highlanders’ best performers over the past half-decade. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Still, the All Blacks were hardly dominating their opposition. Big wins over Australia and Wales were accompanied by a home loss to Argentina, a terrible effort against Japan in Tokyo, and a somewhat embarrassing 25-all draw with England at Twickenham – having blown a 19-point lead with 10 minutes to play.

Was Shannon Frizell really the answer, or was he just the best of a somewhat underwhelming lot?

That way of thinking has shifted somewhat in 2023, however.

Frizell put in a man-of-the-match performance against the Springboks in Auckland, showcasing the kind of form that saw him selected for the All Blacks in the first place.

While the 29-year-old has typically been a dominant figure for the Highlanders, making easy yards with the ball in hand and putting in some ferocious tackles on defence, those kinds of performance have long been missing from the Test arena. Every year, Frizell has been selected on promise and every year the Tongan wrecking ball has been left wanting.

If Frizell can match the showcase he delivered at Mount Smart, then perhaps New Zealand really does stand a chance of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup at the end of October.

On that cool evening in July, Frizell put in 16 hits on defence, shirked off defenders with ease and was an important figure at the breakdown for the men in black, shifting bodies and turning over Springboks ball. He also scored a Jonah Lomu-esque try down the left-hand flank, obliterating Willie le Roux in the process.

In a match that included the likes of world-class loose forward Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Franco Mostert, Jasper Wiese, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen, it was Frizell who stood head-and-shoulders above the competition.

Shannon Frizell of New Zealand runs the ball during the Rugby Championship test match between New Zealand and South Africa played at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on July 15, 2023. (Photo by MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP via Getty Images)

But Frizell hasn’t featured for the All Blacks since late July, with an additional appearance against Australia his third run of the year for NZ. Against Italy on Friday evening, he will make his much-awaited comeback following a long spell on the sidelines due to a lingering hamstring problem.

“Clearly, he’s been challenged on the role of six this year,” Coach Foster said when asked what Frizell would bring to the table upon his return to the team. “He’s been there a few years and we’ve challenged him through the Rugby Championship and really been delighted. He’s brought, in many ways, a simplicity to his game.

“He’s focusing on the quality of his ball carry, the quality of his tackle and his connections with the likes of Ardie (Savea) and Sam (Cane) and now Dalton (Papali’i) this week. He’s improved his work-rate and he’s improved his quality in those two areas, and that’s all we want out of him for Friday.”

Frizell’s performance against the Springboks will go down as one of the best showings from a loose forward throughout the 2023 season. The All Blacks shouldn’t need that kind of performance against Italy in order to bag the win, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. What Foster and co do need, however, is for their returning No 6 to be firing on all cylinders when New Zealand likely face off with Ireland in the World Cup quarter-finals in a few weeks’ time.

Shannon Frizell didn’t take the field last July when Ireland banked their first-ever series win over the All Blacks in NZ. Perhaps he’s the man that they need in order to progress pass their bogey team at this year’s World Cup.

Comments

30 Comments
T
Toddy 263 days ago

Probably not enough made in this article about his lineout prowess, which the all blacks have seriously missed

B
Brad 264 days ago

O'Mahoney, VD Flier, Doris, Conan... it will take more than Frizell having a blinder, chaps. (assuming you get through Italy tonight unscathed of course).

S
Sunny 264 days ago

Maybe with Frizzell, Savea, Papa'ili, and Scott Barrett playing together for the first time this year, it might be the mongrel that has been the momentum missing from the All Black's go forward ball carrying. But in saying that, "Why was Akira Iaone dropped?" Frizzell, Iaone, and Savea playing together might be what the All Black's will need towards the end of the play offs.

G
Greg 264 days ago

Jeepers, Frizzell has played one decent game. Give him a break.

R
Riekert 264 days ago

The post is about Frizell and his greatness, what is all the hatred towards the Boks from JB & Brent?? Stats shows Boks are the best at World Cups played 7 won 3 All Blacks played 9 won 3.
I can assure you our players in the 80's were even better then the 90's boks ask the All Blacks 1981 tour Boks had to sleep in the change rooms the Friday night before the Saturday game, Just some of the players Naas Botha, Danie Gerber, Ray Moort, etc, etc.

"Google" The 1981 Springboks lost to the All Blacks in one of the great Test matches of all time after Welsh referee Clive Norling repeatedly penalised the Boks way after injury time to eventually put fullback Alan Hewson in kicking range to land a penalty that won his team the match 25-22 and the series 2-1

Sorry guys World cups are made for the Boks it is in our DNA and maybe this is why all the hatred. Again this is about Frizell and what I have seen from him he looks like the real deal.

N
Nick 264 days ago

Good piece Tom!

R
Roy 264 days ago

A 29 year old player who sounds decent is the answer for NZ? Is he Jonah Lomu or Dan Carter esq? Does he influence the team like Read or Ritchie did?

Sounds a stretch to me

C
CT 264 days ago

It's difficult for you to digest the demise of the AB's one player won't make a difference, unfortunately without the South African teams in super rugby it's a slow death for the AB's and Aussies

B
BigMaul 265 days ago

Batter NZ 32-22? Battered? RugbyPass, your ‘journalism’ is an embarrassment. I long for the day when a genuinely good rugby website is set up.

J
JB 265 days ago

If I were Gregor Townsend, I would cover the locker room wall with the thousands of throwaway quotes that assume Ireland have beaten Scotland before the game has even been played. Ireland may be favourites, but the Scots are not without a chance.

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