New Zealand are famous for their strength in depth. From 1 to 15 they’ve got 2nd and 3rd string players doing things that most countries can only dream of from their first pick. A cursory glance at the centres and wings reveals a long line of young world beaters from across the country.
In the centres there’s Ngani Laumape*, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert Brown* and Matt Faddes (dreamboat) video below
On the wings, there’s Rieko Ioane*, George Bridge, Tevita Li and Vince Aso.
Some of these players already have test caps* and some are without. All of them are good enough to be capped by other international teams. Australia and England, in particular, would kill for these young centre and wing options. England have reverted to playing a flyhalf (Farrell) at 12 and a centre (Daly) on the wing.
Australia only really get going when Beale plays at 12. But historically Beale came up through the ranks as a flyhalf and moved to fullback in 2010. Moreover, at the last world cup Australia reverted to playing Adam Ashley Cooper on the wing. Whilst he is undoubtedly a quality player and reliable at test level, a firecracker of a winger he is not. The forcing of a round peg into a square hole might work in a pinch but there will be small gaps that a utility back might not quite fill.
New Zealand Flyhalf
For New Zealand, the issue is one that a utility player should never fill and it’s first five-eighth (flyhalf).
New Zealand have the best player in the world currently playing flyhalf in Beauden Barrett. For all the slating he gets over his inconsistency kicking at posts it is not a problem unique to Beauden Barrett or even New Zealand. Just check this article for a comparison of Northern Hemisphere vs Southern Hemisphere kicking stats. Simply put, he is the best in the world, but, he is only one human.
With Aaron Cruden and Lima Sopoaga leaving for pa$ture$ new, the problem in New Zealand has become a lack of test experience at first five-eighth. Now that we’ve had a few Super Rugby games to try and suss out any potential talent coming through I thought I’d attempt a breakdown.
Currently behind Barrett is Richie Mo’unga, a very promising player who has had a great couple of seasons with the Crusaders. He has proven that he knows how to win games. But, he is still uncapped by New Zealand and remains unproven at test level. There is also the injured thing right now which further highlights the depth problems at fly-half.
Alongside Mo’unga is Damian McKenzie the starting fly-half at the Chiefs. Whilst an unproven first five-eighth he has, at least, earned a few caps playing at fullback for New Zealand. This was notably the transition step that Hansen used when breaking Barrett into the team and could well be super effective for Damian McKenzie. There will plenty of opportunity for Mckenzie to springboard himself further onto the world stage from this position.
We’ve reached the end of our immediate Kiwi fly-half list. The depth includes an injured and uncapped Mo’unga and a very young out of position Damian Mckenzie. That’s it, and it’s a bit rubbish by New Zealand depth standards. Is there reason to worry?
The future, however, doesn’t look that bad for New Zealand. As we all know they don’t struggle to create talent. So let us take a bit of deeper dive into that pool of young talent. Sitting in the background desperate for a call-up is Mitch Hunt who has stepped up at the Crusaders in Mo’unga’s absence. Playing well, if not out of his skin, he’s proving himself reliable and cool under pressure
There are also the slightly left of field options with Bryn Gatland and Otere Black. Both have plenty of potential within them and are fighting it out at the Blues. They will have to go some way to prove themselves but the opportunities will present themselves no doubt.
There are also grounds to look at the ex U20s fly-half Tiaan Falcon who is playing understudy to Mckenzie at the Chiefs. In his first start he looked comfortable in Super Rugby and hopefully he goes from strength to strength. He is however extremely young to be brought into the full New Zealand setup in anything more than an apprentice type role.
The best thing New Zealand can do for the 2019 World Cup is keep Barrett wrapped in cotton wool and ride out this brief down period. In a few years time it is obvious they’ll be overflowing with selection choices and headaches but for now, New Zealand fans just need to hang tight.
New Zealand’s Secret Weapon
He’s not retired yet