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FEATURE The pressure is on Razor to find the next All Blacks No 6

The pressure is on Razor to find the next All Blacks No 6
2 months ago

There have been many times in the last eight years when various All Blacks coaches have wished they could turn back the clock and have a fighting fit, young Jerome Kaino in their midst. Of all the legendary players who won back-to-back World Cups in 2011 and 2015, Kaino has proven the hardest to replace, and it doesn’t appear as if filling the No 6 jersey is going to be any easier for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson than it was for his predecessor Ian Foster.

The big issue is durability and New Zealand seems cursed in its efforts to build the sort of robust, dynamic, highly physical player it wants at No 6.

None of the contenders since Kaino have been able to endure the impacts and demands of the role, or just as frustratingly for the various coaching groups, other factors have intervened to leave them back at square on in the hunt for the right player.

Robertson won’t feel he’s at square one necessarily, but he doesn’t have access to last year’s preferred No 6, Shannon Frizell, Ethan Blackadder has barely played in the last 18 months, Akira Ioane is trundling along well enough with the Blues, but has never really found his feet at test level, and while Samipeni Finau is probably shaping as the right person to pick, he too comes with a little red flag on account of his propensity to play so close to the edge of the laws.

Ideally, Robertson would have liked a ready-made No 6 this year – an experienced, cast-iron certainty to deliver ball-carrying punch and heavyweight defence.

Jerome Kaino
Replacing the legendary, and durable, has not proved an easy task for the All Blacks (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

All coaches would obviously like a world class bruiser on the side of their scrum, but Robertson will be wary about the lack of experience he has available at lock this year and he and forwards coach Jason Ryan will be a little concerned about how many destructive ball carriers they will have in the pack and who is going to deliver that edge of intimidation that the All Blacks need to be at their best.

It will also remain a source of frustration that Frizell, who by the end of last year had established himself as the All Blacks’ starting blindside and a genuine high-quality, international player, is not available this year.

Ryan, who joined the All Blacks as forwards coach in July last year, has indicated that Frizell was never sold on the idea of going to Japan in 2024 and 2025, but didn’t think he had much of a test future when Toshiba came calling in September 2022.

First capped in 2018, Frizell had been on-off with the All Blacks, always hinting at his potential but never quite delivering on it. He was in and out of the squad – picked some weeks, dropped the next and it was obvious the coaching team didn’t have inordinate faith in him to consistently deliver.

He saw the likes of Blackadder, Ioane, Dalton Papali’i and even Scott Barrett picked ahead of him at various times and so he signed a two-year deal with the Brave Lupus.

It was a move that caught the All Blacks unaware – it was a contract that was signed purely because communication with Frizell had not been good enough to tell him he was wanted in New Zealand.

Frizell may prove to be the best option for the All Blacks in this current World Cup cycle, but they can’t bank on that, and so they need to find a solution for 2024 and possibly beyond.

 “I think that could have been done better, to be honest,” Ryan revealed midway through the World Cup.

“Shannon didn’t really want to go. So there’s a few things going on behind the scenes and I think sometimes that contracting stuff can be done a little bit better.

“He was at a stage … that something was thrown in front of him, and he didn’t probably have all the facts. I’m a big fan of Shannon. He’s got a lot of good tests in front of him for the All Blacks.”

The implication is clear that the All Blacks will try to get Frizell back for 2025 once his Japanese club contract ends, but there are no guarantees they will persuade him and equally, it has proven hard for players to rekindle their test careers after a stint in Japan.

Frizell may prove to be the best option for the All Blacks in this current World Cup cycle, but they can’t bank on that, and so they need to find a solution for 2024 and possibly beyond.

Blackadder is well known to both Robertson and Ryan through their time together at the Crusaders and both coaches admire the 29-year-old’s work rate, commitment and physicality. Blackadder plays with an almost reckless disregard for his own safety, which is probably why he has been plagued by injuries for the last few years and hasn’t been able to string a long run of form together as a result.

Shannon Frizzell
Shannon Frizzell’s move to Japan has deprived the All Blacks of a quality blindside (Photo Toru Hanai/Getty Images)

He has only won 10 caps since making his debut in 2021 – a number that would surely have been higher had he not suffered a dislocated shoulder in June 2022 that kept him out for eight months.

The way things have transpired he has played just seven games in the last 14 months, and he’s only managed three games so far in 2024.

When he was picked to start his fourth against the Reds in early May, he said: “I have strung three games together which has been hard for me the last couple of years. Something special is going to happen I feel.”

His optimism was misplaced as he didn’t make it on to the field against the Reds. He was forced to withdraw due to another injury he picked up in training and with the Crusaders running out of games, there may not be enough time for Blackadder to state his case for All Blacks selection ahead of England’s arrival in July.

Finau is making a few people nervous – he’s fantastically physical and dynamic, but he’s been a touch wild, most notably observed when he crunched Reds first-five Tom Lynagh earlier this season.

Which leaves Finau, who won a cap last year and who has been the standout No 6 in Super Rugby.

But he’s also set the social media world alight with his propensity to target opposition No 10s, and Finau has been the subject of ferocious debate as to whether he’s a red card waiting to happen.

The All Blacks have been troubled by poor discipline for the last two years – and yellow and red cards have hurt them at crucial times.

Robertson is understandably eager to clean things up and to ensure that the All Blacks play 80 minutes of each test with 15 men on the field. And this is why Finau is making a few people nervous – he’s fantastically physical and dynamic, but he’s been a touch wild, most notably observed when he crunched Reds first-five Tom Lynagh earlier this season.

It was a ferocious tackle that came at least two seconds after Lynagh had passed the ball, and it led to Reds coach Les Kiss saying later: “I think every player has the right to feel safe.

Scott Barrett
Scott Barrett has played at 6 but with Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick retiring, he’s needed in the engine room (Photo David Rogers/Getty Images)

“If you pass the ball and two seconds later you’re getting hit, I think you should be protected and that’s the main focus.

“If that’s becoming a trend we’ve got to stamp on straight away because what you permit, you promote. Good young players, whatever club they’re in, have to be protected.”

When the Chiefs met the Waratahs a few rounds after the loss in Brisbane, there was more controversy when Finau again went after the opposition No 10 and hit Tane Edmed a fraction late.

It was split second stuff this time – the slow-motion replays showed that Finau was committed to the tackle while Edmed still had the ball.

But these sorts of incidents are marginal – judged legal by one set of officials one week but penalised by another the next and the All Blacks coaching staff will be working out how they can get the risk and reward equation with Finau better balanced.

Finau looks like he may be the best No 6 available to the All Blacks this year and there is certainly plenty to like about his game, while crucially, he’s also proving relatively robust and more durable than many of his peers.

They will want him to hunt down opposition No 10s because that is a time-honoured part of the game, but they need him to be more accurate and more considered, without him losing the very qualities they want him to express.

Finau looks like he may be the best No 6 available to the All Blacks this year and there is certainly plenty to like about his game, while crucially, he’s also proving relatively robust and more durable than many of his peers.

He just can’t go around hitting No 10s as late as he been, however, as the All Blacks are going to need him on the field for the full 80 minutes.

Comments

58 Comments
L
Locke 66 days ago

Claims that Finau is a risky proposition are hyperbole. His tackles have been mostly perfectly timed and executed except for the Lynach one and that was a split-second out, certainly not 2 seconds. Social media criticism shows opposition fans are nervous about Finau’s impact.
I see Jacobson and Blackadder as no.7s, they don’t have the power, size or dynamism to be 6 or 8 at Test level.
Akira has shown he lacks the intuition and technique to play Tests. If he learnt to bend his back more and hit breakdowns and tackles low and hard, it would do wonders for his game.
Finau is the standout option for 6 with Grace or Shields as his backup.
I’d like to see Finau, Sotutu and Jacobson as an experimental back-row combo; lineout nous, dynamic ball carrying, hard defence, etc.

D
David 66 days ago

It’s Razor so Blackadder and Grace for starters. Although on second thoughts K Read looked in great shape on TV the other day.

s
swivel 66 days ago

Shannon Frizell’s second year is optional is how I heard it. Given nothing has been confirmed yet it gets more and more likely he signs to return next year.

Cant wait to see Finau doing more work on Internal players.

S
Scott 66 days ago

Blindside flankers should be hard hitting defenders, good lineout jumper with height, and a hard worker who hits and cleans rucks. If he can be a destructive ball carrier it’s a bonus but not a necessity.

Samipeni Fineau and Cullen Grace are excellent at those core skills and my choice at blindside. Brad Shields is dismissed because he is 33 but not sure why that should be a consideration for this season. Shields too does these core roles well.

Just don’t pick an 8 and shift him to 6 like the wingers on The Breakdown suggest, as if 6 and 8 are interchangeable. They are not. An 8 is first and foremost a dynamic ball carrier, not necessarily a destructive defender as a 6 should be.

Devon Flanders and Akira Ioane are #8 s forced to play blindside because their teams have better options at 8 than them. Do not pick them at blindside

N
Nickers 66 days ago

Simply outrageous and demonstrably false to say Finau’s tackle on Lynagh was “2 seconds late” In reality it was probably 0.5 seconds after he passed the ball. If you carry the ball at speed to within 5m of the defensive line you can expect to get tackled. Finau could have pulled out of it and not absolutely flattened him for sure, but there was going to be contact either way.

He seems like a high risk selection at the moment, but there is no one else like him in NZ at the moment. His big tackles make the highlight reels but he is also a great athlete, very fast for such a big man, spent most of his days at lock so also very strong in the line out.

G
Greg 66 days ago

Yes, Finau looks like the best option. Blackadder is not big enough for an international 6 - he should join the queue at 7. Frizzell had the power and heft and line-out height to play lock, so maybe that is where the ABs should be looking, not at a 7 who’s not big enough for 6, but at a lock who might have the agility to play 6, like Scott Barrett, or… Natai Ah Kuoi, who absolutely fits that bill, but seldom gets to play 6 because the Chiefs have so many loosies.

J
JD Kiwi 66 days ago

No need to worry about losers’ mentality hysteria from Australia. Finau has all the attributes, I don't recall a high or no arms tackle from him, and his timing has been controlled very well since the round 3 Lynagh tackle.

It's an easy decision for Razor, the only question is who should back him up from the bench. He can't be overworked like Squire was in his first full season.

T
Tom H 66 days ago

“Reds coach Les Kiss saying later: “I think every player has the right to feel safe.”

Maybe Rugby is the wrong sport for people who want to feel safe..?

J
Jasyn 66 days ago

Callum Grace is playing well now that he's finally back in his best position. But given it was Razor who somehow thought Grace was dynamic enough to be a No8 when he's clearly not, Im not sure he’d backtrack on that.

Finau is risky with his style, and there's almost no point picking Blackadder when he can’t stay on the field more than five minutes.

B
Bret 66 days ago

Jason Ryan knows his craft as forwards coach and I'm sure he’ll hold sway with Scott Robertson of who he feels worthy of selection…his credentials validated when he put a 7xcaps between them front row...Ethan, Samisoni and Lomax on Ellis Park…Go the AB's…

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