The best of the next All Black generation

Highlander Roar Rookie

By Highlander, Highlander is a Roar Rookie

81 Have your say

    If Saturday is moving day in golf tournaments, then the second year after a rugby world cup appears to be the time to put your hand up, get a crack at the big jersey and see if you can get on the Rugby World Cup Express.

    In 2017 no fewer than 55 men wore the black jersey of New Zealand, a number inflated by the trial run nature of the French XV mid-week match. However a string of injuries and external events saw a number of first-choice players absent for extended periods, their replacements were elevated, and thus spots on the bench and in the wider squad became open.

    Coach Steve Hansen, to his credit, stuck with a predetermined rotation plan and had to go deeper into his roster than he ever thought likely, but he also ensured that his bench players received significant minutes no matter the opposition or the state of any individual match. That can take real courage and faith in your players. Kudos Sir Shag.

    The bench use minutes of the Rugby Championship backed this up, 350 minutes more than his South African counterpart.

    But what is the use of testing greater depth if that deep dive doesn’t discover a diamond or two? So how well did Coach Hansen and his assistant team do?

    The darkness seal of approval
    Here are some of those who are not only set for a long stint in the Black, but who will keep their rivals honest in the lead-up to Japan.

    Jordie Barrett – Taranaki water, gotta buy the rights to that somehow. A few rough edges but when you debut against the Lions it’s expected. Talent to burn, and big and fast with it.

    Liam Squire – from peripheral squad member to starter, love his aggression, needs to find that balance to both hit and carry in the same game.

    Rieko Ioane – if you displace the Bus you must be doing okay. I hear good things and I think he might just make it going forward. And he’s only 20.

    Rieko Ioane New Zealand Rugby Union Championship Bledisloe Cup 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Kane Hames – He’s a disruptive little man, never gives a tight-head a second off, will be our bench loosie when Moody returns.

    Nepo Laulala – a destructive tighthead – hurrah! – back from injury, looking good, partnership with Hames never bested this year

    Waisake Naholo – just starting to feel like he is comfortable in the jersey now, outrageous try scoring rate in Super Rugby and is transferring that upwards now. Two top drawer finishes against Wales.

    David Havili – time, time, time, the kid looks like he has tons of it and that can’t be coached.

    Richie Mo’unga – learnt quickly at the Lions ‘up in your face’ school, far more assured since.

    Luke Whitelock – yes, I know he had a cap before, but this is the only guy who even looks like a potential back up for the captain.

    Insufficient data, captain
    Jack Goodhue, Dillon Hunt and Asafo Aumua are all being watched.

    We’ve seen glimpses of the future from all named here and it’s very very good, but what I think is most impressive from this little group is how they look completely assured every time they walk out on the park.

    Must improve – and fast
    Those named here have lots of good stuff, but with flaws that will continue to get exposed at the very top level.

    Scott Barrett – I can see a sort of rugby limbo opening where a player will not be big enough for a lock nor dynamic enough to be a back rower. SB seems to fit this label perfectly.

    Damien McKenzie – this one will divide the nation more than the flag referendum. No-one else on this earth scores the try he did in South Africa, just outrageous. But running sideways and poor decision-making put New Zealand under all sorts of pressure this season. I for one am just not seeing the trade off as worth it yet.

    Vaea Fifita – Coach Hansen has been very clear here – hit more rucks, don’t walk past any, knock people over. He’s not doing it yet.

    Ngani Laumape – No one wants to tackle this guy, ever. All the bits are there just got to put them together. Defensive reads will be his big work on in 2018, he won’t nail down a midfield spot without this improving.

    And it’s time to go
    Patrick Tuipulotu – too many times in the team and not enough impact.

    Mitch Drummond – hope you enjoyed it Mitch but it’s time to go.

    Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen – we cannot have Super Rugby’s most penalised prop in the jersey, just don’t think he has the scrum skills needed.

    Akira Ioane – one more upright ball carry and I’ll kick him myself. Not AB ready yet. Did ok in France but would be selected on trust if picked again.

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    The Crowd Says (81)

    • November 29th 2017 @ 3:45am
      Graeme said | November 29th 2017 @ 3:45am | ! Report

      Hard to disagree with much of that Highlander. I’d point out that Jordie has the kicking for poles string to his bow. I agree with your assessment of D Mac. Throw in his inability to dominate when making a tackle, suspect under the high ball and lack of kicking range to the list of con’s. Didn’t see any of Mitch Drummonds time on the field so can’t comment there.

      Once again the NZ conveyor belt has churned out some outstanding talent. Most pleasing would be the new front row that has come to the fore. The props are a bit rough around the edges but will be much better for the tour the experience they’ve gained over the past three of so months. Second row and half back probably the weakest areas for back up.

      • Roar Guru

        November 29th 2017 @ 11:06am
        Wal said | November 29th 2017 @ 11:06am | ! Report

        Personally I like Drummond, still, only 23 in a position that often requires a bit of experience as TJ is finding out.
        Smith didn’t completely come into his own until 25 so time is on both Drummondand TJ’s side.

        • November 29th 2017 @ 3:49pm
          Cuw said | November 29th 2017 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

          crusaders i think had the best mix of scrum halves – Bryn Hall and Drummond – who were played alternatively .

          basically both got more or less the same time – unless they were injured. i think their U20 boy is injured ( Eri Enari ).

          will be interesting to see which pair will shine next season

          Blues – Gus Pulu and Sam Nock ( Ruru 3rd)

          Crusaders – Hall and Brummond (Stratton 3rd)

          Chiefs – Webber and 3T ( Taumeteine 3rd)

          Highlanders – Smith and hammington (Renton 3rd)

          Hurricanes – TJP and Christie ( Booth 3rd)

    • Roar Guru

      November 29th 2017 @ 6:59am
      Machpants said | November 29th 2017 @ 6:59am | ! Report

      Some interesting calls, especially at nine. So who replaces Kerr Barlow? Biggest question for the ABs ATM.

      • November 29th 2017 @ 7:10am
        Highlander said | November 29th 2017 @ 7:10am | ! Report

        The big mover at 9 last year was Bryn Hall for me, massive improver so I see him and Brad Weber fighting it out for the 3rd slot, or maybe the 2nd role if TJP doesn’t kick on.

        Also, Mitch Drummond reminds me of Mitch Hunt and ‘that’ drop goal, cant have that – was edited out.

        • November 29th 2017 @ 2:54pm
          Tylorman said | November 29th 2017 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

          With Hall it was the removal of that massive chain and anchor around his neck from his previous side…?

          • November 30th 2017 @ 10:19am
            Rugby Tragic said | November 30th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

            Helps playing behind a dominant pack TM …

    • Roar Guru

      November 29th 2017 @ 7:56am
      Sam Taulelei said | November 29th 2017 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      I’m going to reserve judgment on your assessment of To’omaga-Allen.

      In his only appearance on tour against the French Barbarians he had an excellent game, particularly at scrum time.

      The fourth lock is wide open with neither Barrett or Tuipulotu laying down a marker this tour. Tuipulotu played well at Lyon but wasn’t as noticeable in Cardiff.

      All Blacks struggle when they don’t play a lock that can generate momentum with ball carrying like Retallick. Romano is closest to his ability but there’s still a gap. Who else will emerge to stake a claim next year?

      Outside your list Charlie Ngatai is still worth consideration for the midfield.

      You also forgot to mention Atu Moli

      • November 29th 2017 @ 8:22am
        Toddyq said | November 29th 2017 @ 8:22am | ! Report

        If Michael Fatialofa comes back from injury showing the form of 2016 he may be in the frame for the fourth lock position. A bit of a forgotten man due to injury who was one of the best of a championship Canes pack in 2016, they missed him last year. He has some Retallick like qualities about him.

        • November 29th 2017 @ 10:13am
          Highlander said | November 29th 2017 @ 10:13am | ! Report

          Good call, is he big enough to do a Retallick role or is he another Barrett/Fifita.
          Wondering if after Romano and Barrett whether the brains trust will start to work on one off the youngies as a backup – Strange and Hemopo come to mind .

          • Roar Guru

            November 29th 2017 @ 11:13am
            Wal said | November 29th 2017 @ 11:13am | ! Report

            Anybody seen much of Josh Goodhue? Certainly has the size at 1.99 and 115kg

            • November 29th 2017 @ 12:49pm
              Highlander said | November 29th 2017 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

              Ryan Crpttys view is that he will play 100 tests.
              All his mitre 10 and u20 form point to better things.
              Here hoping he fulfils that potential

              • Roar Guru

                November 29th 2017 @ 1:59pm
                Wal said | November 29th 2017 @ 1:59pm | ! Report

                Is that Jack or Josh Highlander, (too many bloody brothers in the AB’s) Can just about fill a team of Barretts, Whitelocks and Goodhues.

                They are almost Devito / Arnie type twins, Josh is 13cm and 18kg heavier than his twin brother.

              • November 29th 2017 @ 2:43pm
                Highlander said | November 29th 2017 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

                Josh……brothers everywhere

                Jack is the lock……right?

              • November 29th 2017 @ 3:06pm
                Cuw said | November 29th 2017 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

                jack is center at Crusaders
                Josh is 2nd rower at Blues.

                guess who is gonna progress 😛

              • November 29th 2017 @ 3:27pm
                Highlander said | November 29th 2017 @ 3:27pm | ! Report

                Jack is the centre
                Josh the lock
                Wal has the right numbers up for Josh
                These guys are getting too hard to keep track of 🙂

              • Roar Guru

                November 29th 2017 @ 3:29pm
                Wal said | November 29th 2017 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

                Hahaha Jack is the Centre,
                Josh has only played twice for the Blues, so I haven’t seen much of him.
                Thought with the way the taniwha played this year he may have been part of their success.

          • November 29th 2017 @ 1:53pm
            Toddyq said | November 29th 2017 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

            Not sure how big he is but he always seemed to go forward with the ball and drive opposition players back in the tackle, his massive work rate and ball skills were my main reasons for the comparison to Retallick

          • November 29th 2017 @ 3:08pm
            Cuw said | November 29th 2017 @ 3:08pm | ! Report

            I will rather have the big Bird.

            he did fine in mid week and babaas

            he has a height that is rarely bettered – which was seen in all the tour matches he played.

            much improved with carrying and tackling. by 2019 he will be there for sure – if he remains injury free.

            dont forget , he partners Brodie at chiefs

            • Roar Guru

              November 29th 2017 @ 6:13pm
              Sam Taulelei said | November 29th 2017 @ 6:13pm | ! Report

              Hasn’t Bird signed to play overseas after next year?

              • November 29th 2017 @ 6:35pm
                Cuw said | November 29th 2017 @ 6:35pm | ! Report

                maybe ur referring to Brad Shields? he will play for WASPS in Aviva after 2018 super series.

                i am willing to bet Eddie will call him up straight away in 2018.

          • November 30th 2017 @ 12:36am
            sturugbymad said | November 30th 2017 @ 12:36am | ! Report

            Sam Lousi for me , a thinking man’s lock with grunt to boot. Combats mauls well , big ticker as well. With Fats back for 2018 should be a good pairing for future AB back up second row.

      • November 29th 2017 @ 10:14am
        Highlander said | November 29th 2017 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        Forgot all about Moli. He can play both sides eh?

    • Columnist

      November 29th 2017 @ 7:56am
      Nicholas Bishop said | November 29th 2017 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      Nice article H’lander. Interested to see you feel Akira Ioane has stalled, I din’t think he was far off at all. Conditioning?

      • November 29th 2017 @ 8:10am
        Highlander said | November 29th 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

        Hi Nick
        I can’t shake the feeling every time I watch him that he is playing the same way he did at First XV level, biggest bloke, bumps off guys with the hip, always looking to go himself first, maybe just a little immature, he had plenty of both good and bad games for the Blues last year.
        A couple of simple technique finishes will help and I hope he gets there.

        • Roar Guru

          November 29th 2017 @ 11:15am
          Wal said | November 29th 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

          I get a similar feeling,
          Things came a bit too easy early on, I get the impression he’s not as hard a trainer as his brother. But only the inner circle will know that.

        • November 29th 2017 @ 3:11pm
          Cuw said | November 29th 2017 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

          i think the powers that be need to find him the position.

          i think he is seen as a utility 3rd row and is not doing anything right – much like folau who roams all over but does not have a core set of skills to be called a wing or a fullback.

          now that luatua is gone , Akira shud go to 8 and learn to be an 8.

          Blues seem to sway this way and that way with Kaino at 8 at times, Luatua at 8 at times, akira at 8 at times ….

          to me he is not as skilled as Luatua . so he needs to learn to play one position. seems he has the speed and size but not much sense.

    • Roar Guru

      November 29th 2017 @ 8:22am
      Fionn said | November 29th 2017 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      I had thought Laumape was a pretty reasonable defender at 12, but just lacked the quality of distribution skills required to be an All Black centre?

      I am really starting to wonder what the All Blacks’ outside backs will look like by 2019, especially if Ben Smith can stay fit and if Mounga can eventually challenge Barrett for the starting 10 jersey. Between B. Barrett, S. Barret, D. Havili, B. Smith, W. Naholo, R. Ioane and I. Dagg that is a lot of players to choose from.

      Laulala is the guy who probably impressed me most out of all of them. He was fantastic.

      • November 29th 2017 @ 9:20am
        rebel said | November 29th 2017 @ 9:20am | ! Report

        J Barrett, not S. Also the Bus could be in contention with a big off season and MacKenzie is the incumbant.
        Hopefully less injuries for the next couple of years to settle on the top side.
        B Barrett will be the 10 though, he will only drop back as injury cover during a match.

      • November 29th 2017 @ 1:00pm
        Nick H said | November 29th 2017 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

        Don’t forget Nehe Milner Skudder – I thought he was just starting to hit top level again before injury struck again.

        • November 29th 2017 @ 3:24pm
          rebel said | November 29th 2017 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

          Gee that’s right and also recent cap Matt Duffie, Seta Tamanivalu, and guys like Tevita Li and Ben Lam.

          • November 29th 2017 @ 6:39pm
            Cuw said | November 29th 2017 @ 6:39pm | ! Report

            BEN LAM shud have stuck with the 7S . it is very hard for him to get into the test side.

            he found it hard to get into Hurricanes even, …

      • November 30th 2017 @ 1:27am
        sturugbymad said | November 30th 2017 @ 1:27am | ! Report

        squad so far for 2019 , have left out Kaino and Skudder as will probably be injured/out of form. No.6 is still open for a bolter though depending on who improves and impact from U20 stars.

        Franks , Laulala
        Coles , Taylor , Aumua
        Whitelock, Lousi
        Retallick, Fatialofa
        Barrett , Fifita
        Cane, Todd/savea
        Read , Squire
        Smith , Perenara, Enari
        Barrett, Sopoanga
        Dagg, Naholo
        Crotty, Williams
        ALB, Goodhue
        Smith, Barrett

    • Roar Guru

      November 29th 2017 @ 8:29am
      John R said | November 29th 2017 @ 8:29am | ! Report

      I’m terrified of having Asafo Aumua unleashed on Australia aye.

      • November 29th 2017 @ 4:37pm
        Highlander said | November 29th 2017 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

        Lets hope the kid can show some big Super Rugby form eh……he as to get in the Canes 23 first
        But he looks very scary ball in hand

        • Roar Guru

          November 29th 2017 @ 4:45pm
          John R said | November 29th 2017 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

          I reckon he’s already leapfrogged Riccitelli there.

          Not to tell them how to suck eggs, but surely they want to manage Coles workload, considering his advancing age and recent run of injuries/concussion.

          All to say, big minutes coming up for AA!

          • November 29th 2017 @ 6:41pm
            Cuw said | November 29th 2017 @ 6:41pm | ! Report

            Ricky Riccitelli will start when Coles is not there.

            he proved to be an able replacement.

            Aumua has not shown anything in super rugger yet.

            they will manage him for sure.

            • Roar Guru

              November 30th 2017 @ 8:23am
              John R said | November 30th 2017 @ 8:23am | ! Report

              Yeah Ricky is the man for sure, and I figured he’d still be the #2 #2 initially.

              But I was discussing it with some of my Kiwi mates, and they made a good point, AA is in the All Blacks, RR is not….

              • November 30th 2017 @ 3:15pm
                cuw said | November 30th 2017 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

                true that but then he was in as the “apprentice” and played off the bench for B team.

                i doubt the coaches will give him starting spot from match one.

                simple reason is he has done nothing at super rugger level YET.

                but by mid season he may go to the top of the tree – if he proves he can handle it.

                also he plays crash and burn rugger. like a little Jordan Taufua. how long can u do that to the body?

              • Roar Guru

                December 1st 2017 @ 8:12am
                John R said | December 1st 2017 @ 8:12am | ! Report

                That’d be the sensible way to bring him in no doubt hey.

                That’s a fair point on the body hey, can’t just keep that up forever!

      • November 29th 2017 @ 5:17pm
        Jemainok said | November 29th 2017 @ 5:17pm | ! Report

        He Should get plenty of game time at the Hurricanes with Coles Injured.