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FEATURE The All Blacks might just have the best wing combination in the world

The All Blacks might just have the best wing combination in the world
8 months ago

The final two pieces of the All Blacks’ jigsaw appeared to fall into place in their semi-final destruction of Argentina.

Since the opening night defeat to the French, it’s been apparent that the All Blacks pack has been on a mission to rebuild itself into the sort of beast it had been threatening to become during the Rugby Championship.

By the time they played Ireland in the quarter-final, the All Blacks had developed the explosive power and set-piece excellence that they would need if they were to be a realistic hope of competing with the best.

The game against Ireland was all about the physical – the crunch in the collisions, the grunt in the scrum, the craft at the breakdown, the guile in the lineout and the All Blacks proved they had it all.

Against Argentina, they gave a sharp reminder that they not only have found the requisite power, but they know how to produce it consistently.

Shannon Frizell of New Zealand scores a try during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 semi-final match between Argentina and New Zealand at Stade de France on October 20, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)

But the more important revelation in the semi-final was that they have two wings in Will Jordan and Mark Telea who are giving them a lethal attacking threat on both sides of the field.

Poor old Argentina had no idea what hit them – they got crunched in the scrums, driven back in the mauls and hammered in the collisions and then, just as they had manned the decks best they could to stop the All Blacks breaking them in the middle of the field through their forwards, the ball would fly to the touchlines where one or the other of Telea or Jordan would scythe through them.

It was an incredibly productive night for both All Blacks wings. Telea, who was back in the team after missing the quarter-final due to disciplinary reasons, played like he owed his team an apology.

He played precisely like the enigma he is. Telea, a bit like Ardie Savea, doesn’t quite make sense as a player – not when his size to power ratio is considered.

At 1.85m and 99kg, he’s big, but not in the power wing category. Not even close.

Somehow Telea is able to blast, twist and wriggle out of multiple tackles.

The All Blacks have Leicester Fainga’anuku and Caleb Clarke who are both about the same height as Telea but 11kg heavier and pack an enormous punch when they carry the ball.

But somehow Telea is able to blast, twist and wriggle out of multiple tackles and it is incredible how often he can find a way to power through the middle of the tightest exchanges.

He was in his element in this regard against the Pumas – frequently taking the ball close to the ruck as if he was an auxiliary loose forward and driving hard yards.

He was exceptionally good at stealing territory, always finding a way to break free from the first tackle and propel himself an additional three to four metres before someone was able to drag him down.

There was one run close to halftime that saw him beat five defenders – four of whom seemingly had him all but pinned down – and set up Shannon Frizell’s first try.

That was a critical moment as it enabled the All Blacks to go into the break 20-6 ahead and with the Pumas all but knowing their dream was crushed.

Mark Telea of New Zealand in action during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 semi-final match between Argentina and New Zealand at Stade de France on October 20, 2023 in Paris, France(Photo by Christian Liewig – Corbis/Getty Images)

They were barely coping with the power surges of the All Blacks forwards and they had even less ability to deal with a player like Telea.

And to make their lives yet more miserable, over on the right wing, Jordan was giving a masterclass in finishing and opportunism.

Two of his three tries were testament to the work done by those around him, but the third was down to his innate sense of timing, anticipation, speed, vision and stunning execution.

He popped up on an inside run close to the ruck where Ardie Savea fed him and he blasted through a hole the Pumas couldn’t plug, chipped ahead and somehow managed to regather and finish off an 80-metre piece of solo brilliance.

It was an extraordinary try and it illustrated the danger that Jordan poses. All Blacks defence coach Scott McLeod, said: “Why he’s so good at finishing is that he can see things early.

That last score by Jordan meant that he has drawn level with the tournament record of eight tries.

“He can understand where the space is and then where it is going to be and then position himself really well so that when he does get the ball he understands what he has to do.

“Players around him now are starting to play him off as well and they get excited when he has the ball and he they get ready for that.

“But if you take the ball to a different part of the field and take all the defenders over there and then try to quickly get it to him he can make something out of nothing.”

That last score by Jordan meant that he has drawn level with the tournament record of eight tries.

Not only is on the cusp of setting a new tournament try-scoring record, but he’s on track to break all sorts of other records as he has now scored 31 tries in 30 Tests.

That makes him the most prolific finisher in world rugby and All Blacks history as no one has been able to sustain a rate of one try per game in the same way – not over the number of Tests he has played at least.

Will Jordan
Will Jordan of New Zealand scores his personal second try of the game during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 semi-final match between Argentina and New Zealand at Stade de France on October 20, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)

But despite that being an important part of his role, Jordan doesn’t see it as the main part and nor is he keeping track of the incredible statistics he is posting.

“Not really. I am not one to check numbers,” he says. “I have always liked the support play and be in the frame and read the game sort of scenarios, so being able to do that is what I review on and what I hold my hat to do.

“It is not so much about scoring tries because you get a few like I had last night where you just catch it and dive over, it is more about involvement for me and trying to pop up to give us another player on attack. Scoring tries is not the main marker that I use around how I am going.

“But, honestly it is pretty humbling [to share the eight-try record with Bryan Habana, Julian Savea and Jonah Lomu].

“When you think about those guys, they are all legends of the game and when you think about the position I play, they are guys who have trail-blazed the way to play as a winger. It is pretty cool. It is nice to be able to do that in amongst the team playing so well.”

World Cup finals don’t tend to be free-flowing and high-scoring, and the chances are high that the main function for Telea and Jordan will be more defensively focused – fielding high balls, reading defensive plays and working with fullback Beauden Barrett to create counterattack opportunities.

Their combination I think has worked well since the start of the year.

Ian Foster on the partnership between Will Jordan and Mark Telea

And certainly head coach Ian Foster is confident that his two wings can find a way to be influential no matter who they are playing.

It is apparent that Foster has been building this back three combination since the Rugby Championship.

He likes the ability of Telea to be effective in heavy traffic, Jordan’s ability to pop up in unexpected places and make things happen and Barrett’s old wise head to guide the two of them.

“They played well and they had to because I thought Leicester [Fainga’anuku] played well last week, too,” Foster said after the 44-6 semifinal demolition of the Pumas.

“And he’s put the pressure on, but Mark was strong in the close-quarter areas and it was that sort of game. He enjoys going in close like that and he does it really well and I thought he defended really well.

“And I thought Will showed how good he is at finishing things off. Their combination I think has worked well since the start of the year. “We have put a bit of time into that during the Rugby Championship and really delighted with the combination we have got and with the glue between them which is Beady [Beauden Barrett] who is the communicator and connects the dots.”


ruckaa 243 days ago

i believe it will be who will win the air (like they must catch the ball no knockons ) have better shot at controlling the box kicks that will come plus isnt it an awsome shot of confidence when you see your brother rising high above the ground oblivious to danger and claiming that MF i hope our boys nail it cheslin and co will be scrapping right there they may be short but man can they bounce and of course the lineouts wow four titans getting chucked up so high they almost look like theyre standing on shoulders and STILL sometimes its not high enough fantastic scrums whooah For tamaiti i will say NGA PUHI he comes from the most respected feared warrior tribe when i saw SPARTA i thought you know nothing about THE NGA PUHI he will feel their presence and flethcher strength is just so natural to him and he WILL find out what is beyond his 100% for sure good luck boys and for the old timers tyrel and ethan i will be happy if its a ROCK a steady unmoving 16 man rock , the anticipatoin eh definitely crazy good

Andrew 243 days ago

Yet…this combo wasn’t there by choice. Sevu Reece would have displaced Telea and Jordie was the wing early on with Foster saying that a move to 12 for the latter was not on his watch…so much luck…

Nickers 245 days ago

The best gauge of the ABs environment is how new players perform when they come into the team. For many years very good SR players went to another level once they came into the ABs environment. That had been in a steady state of decline between 2015 - 2021. A number of very talented players who came in during that time got worse over time instead of better - Reiko, Jordie Barrett, ALB, Cane, Frizzell, Papali’i… the list goes on and perhaps only Savea, Jordan, and to a lesser degree Scott Barrett bucked that trend. From 2022 onwards new players like Roigard, Telea, Samisoni, De Groot, Williams, Lomax, Newell have developed very quickly from excellent SR players to world class. And the aforementioned who hadn’t really lived up to their potential are all of a sudden operating at world class level. The fact that Telea has gone from relatively unknown internationally to one of the best wingers in the world is a credit to the turnaround the whole team has done over the past 18 months.

Riekert 246 days ago

Can’t compare Argies at this WC they were poor this hole time and were lucky to qualify to go to a Semi. All Black would have been better off playing against their second team.

Another 246 days ago

Telea gives the impression of having a slight build, but if you see his frame close up he is actually pretty powerfully built. He has deceptive strength.

Wesley 246 days ago

I’m South African and I have to say that I really like Will Jordan, phenomenal finisher and great attitude on the field. I think the Final is going to be a great test, not sure my nerves can handle it again but here we go 🥴

Bruiser 246 days ago

Love his willingness to get involved. My main concern would be his lack of pace, as he rarely gets on outside of his man. But Nehe MS wasnt quick either…more than one way to skin a cat

Roy 246 days ago

He is certainly a gifted footballer. We are so lucky to have him in our ranks. Seems very humble as well. Hope he goes well in the final. He will need to be on song against Kolbe.

JD Kiwi 246 days ago

Talea will need to be discerning about when he runs into those big Springbok forwards!

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