Last week, All Black captain Kieran Read announced he will be plying his trade in Japan post World Cup.
The 33-year-old will be joining Toyota Verblitz on a two-year contract after he plays in a third World Cup. With 118 internationals to his name, there are big shoes to fill to replace Read at the back of the All Black scrum.
Here are three potential options to wear the number eight jersey once Kieran Read ends his illustrious career at the highest level.
He is my personal pick to be the next regular All Black number 8. This will require a slight position shift, however, he is playing in the 8 position for the Hurricanes more regularly.
A strong frame with his natural athleticism has seen the Hurricanes loose forward be more effective at holding players up in the tackle and being able to carry players extra metres with ball in hand.
Ardie Savea is currently in career-best form and was the All Blacks’ best-performing forward at the back end of 2018. Savea, who is predominantly an open side flanker, took his game to a new level last year benefiting from regular starts after Sam Cane suffered a serious neck injury.
Savea has only started 11 matches in 35 appearances for the men in black.
Against Argentina in late September, Savea was a late call up to play number eight after Luke Whitelock was ruled out with illness. That was the kick start to his stellar finish to the year, where he made 60 attacking metres and showed he can play the position at international level.
With the 25-year-old expected to play a lot more in the number eight position for the Hurricanes in 2019, he will put a compelling case forward for him to be a regular in the position come next year. His current form is too hard to ignore and he should be a first-choice All Black this year.
Having made one appearance against a French XV back in 2017, this year is time for Akira Ioane to cement a regular spot in the All Blacks. Ioane needs to avoid the unnecessary niggle that creeps into his game and stick to what he does best.
This is making line breaks either off the back of a scrum or out wide in general play.
Last year’s leading New Zealand forward try scorer in Super Rugby (eight tries) and currently leading this year with the number of ball carries with 51 shows what a valuable attacking weapon the 1.94m loose forward is. His speed from his 7s background is a key tool that will be effective in the All Black set up when he is running freely in space.
The 24-year-old missed All Black selection for the 51-man squad that went to Japan. He bounced back in the Mitre 10 Cup for Auckland where he produced some outstanding displays including a strong game in the semi-final.
Having played his 50th Super Rugby match earlier this season, Ioane is starting to develop the necessary big game experience to play at the international level.
The 28-year-old started four Test matches in 2018, including captaining a relatively inexperienced team against Japan in November. He was Steve Hansen’s choice to start three consecutive matches against France in the June series.
The younger brother of lock Sam, Luke Whitelock is well regarded as an industrious rugby player with a large work rate, particularly on defence. He is a well-respected leader that will play his heart out for the full 80 minutes.
Whitelock is known for his strong leadership skills, having already captained the All Blacks twice and has also been the Highlanders’ leader. He led by example against the British Lions when the Highlanders won a thriller by one point with strong defence in the crucial stages of that match.
He does not offer the same wide-edge running game that Read has been effective with over his career. He lacks the explosiveness of other potential number eight options such Ioane or Savea, which will affect the go forward the All Blacks will want to generate.
His big match temperament and leadership qualities once Read and Hansen step down will be valuable assets in a new All Black era.
The three different options mentioned all offer different aspects to the All Blacks. Luke Whitelock is a strong defensive player and plays a strong role in the middle of the field.
Akira Ioane is a raw attacking talent and his international debut will not be far away.
Ardie Savea is an all-round loose forward who has taken his game to a high standard where he no longer can be considered a super sub.