All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made it clear that should the Crusaders play the final of the Super Rugby competition, some of their players will not make the trip to Buenos Aires for the opening Rugby Championship Test against Argentina.
If the Hurricanes happened to be their opposition in the final, some of their players might also miss out.
It’s probably something the Argentinians wouldn’t be too happy about, but at the same time the Jaguares may well be a finals opponent which could put them in a similar boat.
The All Blacks do have to have the Rugby World Cup in the back of their minds and they will want to rest players. There’s every chance South Africa, Australia and Argentina will be looking to do something similar.
Then again, there have been plenty of examples of when second-string players have been given an opportunity, and they have made the most of being in a starting line-up.
With that in mind it is a good time for the selectors to throw the dice; one player who might thrive on the opportunity is Chiefs blindside flanker Luke Jacobson. He appeals as someone who, if you are going to test how they look in an All Blacks jersey, then he is worth looking at. Liam Squire would also be taken to give him more game time.
At No. 8, Luke Whitelock or Akira Ioane might also come into the picture. Ioane has had a lot of rugby but I would take him.
If Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett were left at home then Brodie Retallick could probably expect to have Patrick Tuipulotu alongside him. Tuipulotu has had a good season with the Blues. In the front row, if Owen Franks is fit again then they would probably take him because he hasn’t had a lot of play lately; the same goes for Codie Taylor who has been out a bit recently. Dane Coles also needs rugby so he is likely to go. Maybe they would rest Joe Moody and Ofa Tuungafasi while Angus Ta’avao might be taken.
Ta’avao has had a big season. He’s really given the selectors something to think about at just the right time. There’s going to be a logjam of props and he’s a mobile front-rower which is what they want, he scores tries, gets round and scrummages well. He’s not one-dimensional which is what I like about him.
In the backline, Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams may not feature. But you would have to take Ngani Laumape and Anton Lienert-Brown, especially if Jack Goodhue and Ryan Crotty were among those to be rested.
Maybe they will look at Braydon Ennor. He hasn’t always been in action for the Crusaders but he is someone who is going to wear an All Blacks’ jersey, it is just a case of when. David Havili is another who could offer versatility in such a backline.
At first five-eighth, you would probably want to give Richie Mo’unga a rest, so that would leave a player to come in to be involved if nothing else. He may not get on the field but Josh Ioane might be a player who gets a chance.
On the wing Ben Lam might be a chance. He’s been playing some superb rugby and I think he’s surpassed Waisake Naholo. If you go on form, and that is more the case among backs, especially in a World Cup year when form is everything, a winger in form is crucial. I think Lam could add another dimension to the All Blacks and take the world by storm.
Rieko Ioane and Lam would be devastating on the wings. If ever Lam gets to wear an All Blacks jersey it will be reward for taking the hardest route through Sevens and having to move from Auckland to Wellington. He’s been in the mix but never really had the opportunity. He’s continued to get better each year, though. He’s getting older but getting better, too.
Looking back at the weekend’s Super Rugby, if we examine the Chiefs’ season, and how they started, their first game against the Crusaders, it certainly didn’t go their way. That must have really hurt them and they must have brought that emotion into their game in Suva on Saturday.
It wasn’t the greatest spectacle in terms of the skills of the game. There were handling errors, there were some silly mistakes, poor kicking; the sweat from the humidity in the islands meant there was a greasy ball.
But talk about edge-of-your-seat stuff! To see the Chiefs really dig deep and come back by scoring some sensational tries; it was a really good game of rugby and really entertaining.
Sam Cane, meanwhile, has come back and virtually picked up from where he left off. For a guy who had a broken neck to still stick his head in places where a lot of people wouldn’t shows you what a courageous player he really is. It showed the mental fortitude he brings to the game and his determination was evident in staying for the 80 minutes against the Crusaders.
Cane came up with some crucial turnovers when the Crusaders were camped on the Chiefs’ line looking to score. Next thing Cane pops up, frees the ball, gets it out and all of a sudden the Chiefs are back on attack and out of the danger zone.
He’s certainly made a huge difference to that team. He brings leadership, he’s an All Black who’s at the top of his game and one that lifts other players around him.
Another player who has had an outstanding season for the side is halfback Brad Weber. To keep an incumbent All Black in Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi on the bench, you can’t look past what he has done. He has leapfrogged his rival and I’m pretty sure Steve Hansen and the other All Blacks selectors will realise that Weber is a player in form and he brings an x-factor that will seriously put pressure on the other two above him, Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara.
There’s always been a bit of gap between them and then whoever was the third choice. But Weber is going to put pressure on them because he’s had a big season.
And while Hansen will be concerned with nothing other than the Rugby World Cup, it is pretty handy for whoever has the team in the future to have a player with Weber’s speed who’s capable of playing a similar sort of style to Smith, especially, which has been vital to the All Blacks’ game.
The Blues, meanwhile have almost slipped to the point where they are following the script they have written over the past several years. With seven minutes to go, their game with the Bulls was in the bag and all they had to do was defend and do nothing stupid; but costly errors came back to bite them.
The players they had on the field from the start had been doing the job and I think sometimes you have to look at why you are making substitutions. If you are coasting to a victory, why make substitutions that are unnecessary?
The thing is the Blues played well and the disappointing thing is that while it was a draw, they did deserve to win that one. There’s been a lot of times when they deserved to lose but the Blues did deserve to come away with the win and I suppose that was why there were a lot of down faces after the game.