A RAZOR’S EDGE – SANITY HAS FINALLY PREVAILED

Congratulations Scott Robertson on being appointed All Blacks coach after this year’s World Cup has finished.

IAN FOSTER and SCOTT ROBERTSON - It's good-bye to one and welcome to the other.

The All Blacks are long overdue for a fresh set of ideas and fresh sets of eyes selecting the best players in their best positions, something that certainly has not happened during current coach Ian Foster’s reign.

It seems utterly ludicrous given all the matches the team has each year that we still have no idea who our best mid-field combination is, nor our loose-forward mix, our best fullback, wings, halfbacks and first fives.

That’s bloody near the whole team, good luck trying to pick a squad that even closely resembles what the current selectors will come up with.

There lies the big difference between the All Blacks and the two top ranked teams in the world, Ireland and France. Their top combinations have been settled for a long time, they are superbly coached and both showed in the just completed Six Nations competition, which was brilliant to watch, just how good they are.

Dallas McLoad - showing great form for the Crusaders.

 

The big plus for the All Blacks of course is we don’t go in as anywhere near favourites and sadly expectations even for the most fervent fans like myself, are much lower than they should be. However I have no doubt we have the players to beat anyone, it’s just can we do it three matches a row in a World Cup this year.

Scott Robertson has already proven many times over, and he did it again last weekend when his side produced a brilliant performance to beat the Blues, that he has the ability not only to pick players who invariably don’t let him down, but more than that, they reach a level of performance that probably surprises some of them.

Look at mid-fielder Dallas McLeod and fullback Fergus Burke, the latter only just having been moved from first five. They stepped up big time and shone last week. Christian Lio-Willie, a bruising loose-forward new to this level, he’s shone in the absence of injured number eight Cullen Grace. 

On the subject of loose-forwards, how good is Ethan Blackadder. He is a machine, what a work rate, his skills in contact, surely he’s locked in for All Blacks selection

Robertson’s teams pride themselves on players being able to step up and do the job when others are injured and geez do they need that to be the case right now with a horrendous injury list. Huge blow this week with skipper and champion lock Sam Whitelock out for several weeks with a broken hand and mercurial winger Sevu Reece out for the rest of the Super rugby season with a leg injury.

 

Thomas Umaga-Jensen - a rare gem in the Highlanders back line.

 

The Crusaders aren’t the only team with long injury lists either and it’s really sad to see so many players unable to play at present.

All great teams with great coaches in many sports base their success on defence because if you can’t keep the opposition out it makes it extra difficult to keep ahead.

The commitment in defence of the Crusaders against the Blues in last week’s thriller was exceptional but also synonymous with Scott Robertson’s teams and defence is an area certainly since Foster took over, that the All Blacks seriously need to fix.

There will no doubt be a few nervous All Blacks from the current era who will be nervous with a new coach coming in because the new oner is also an outstanding selector.

One of several areas I’ve already mentioned where All Blacks places are wide open is in mid-field and we saw several standout performances last week from players who either already have played for the All Blacks or would certainly not look out of place at the highest level.

Chief’s star Alex Nankivell kept up his superb form of the last two seasons, so consistent in his all-round game. Good to see Crusaders man Braydon Ennor have his best game of the season as he battles to get back to what he was a couple of years ago before being struck down with injury.

Highlanders powerhouse Thomas Umaga-Jensen is shining in an ordinary team and someone who probably isn’t in the selectors calculations but made a big impact when he came on against the Crusaders is Bryce Heem. Ironically he replaced Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. The former league great is certainly improving but he’s not in the same class yet in rugby union as any of those I have mentioned and his defence is an area of weakness I never expected it to be.

I expect Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane to be selected for the World Cup but who joins them, especially with Anton Lenient-Brown and Jack Goodhue injured is anyone’s guess.

A huge concern for Ian Foster must be the continuing absence of star back Will Jordon with head ache issues. Although he has been used only on the wing by Foster, fullback is where he could be a real difference. He is just so lethal from broken play and has such an uncanny instinct of being in the right place at the right time when tries are on.

Bring on more classics like last week’s Blues v Crusaders epic, goodness knows Super rugby needs it and administrators have to find some way to get more bums on seats at matches. Thank goodness for the two Pacific Island teams Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika, a total breath of fresh air.

But fixing super rugby is another story and right now I can sit back safe in the knowledge a new and exciting All Blacks era is on the horizon and who knows, Ian Foster could sign off a hero is the All Blacks defy the odds and win the World Cup in France. I hope he does.

Interview & Story by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.

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