With the highly anticipated North vs South game finally going ahead this Saturday, rugby fans were gifted with the starting line-ups for both teams.
Throughout, there seem to be surface discrepancies in terms of selection. But do these choices reflect how the All Blacks selectors are feeling?
The North Squad is evidently the stronger team with a close to All Black strength backline. All Blacks regulars such as Beauden Barret, Anton Leinert-Brown, and Reiko Ioane along with electrifying talent in Sevu Reece and Damien McLenzie, will add break out Super Rugby star Caleb Clarke to the mix.
The first selection that is certain to raise eyebrows comes with the no.9 jersey as TJ Perenara has been given the start over Aaron Smith. For years now, Smith has been getting the nod over Perenara and if these selectors were picking the All Blacks team, it would be hard to justify the same decision.
With Reiko Ioane in the centers for the North side, it firmly cements the sentiment that the All Blacks selectors would like to see the elusive star moving closer into the field. With so much up and coming talent in the outside backs, Clarke, Jordan, Reece, Peter Umaga-Jensen, it makes sense to move one of the game’s most exciting players closer infield, getting him more involved and to make room for others outside him.
The forward pack features big bodies and strong runners, with Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane, and Patrick Tuipulotu in the side. Dalton Papalii will come off the bench in order to add further ball running prowess.
The South team on paper doesn’t feature the same level of big names however throughout the line-up there are solid players that will look to continue the momentum of their successful Super Rugby campaigns.
Shannon Frizell and Tom Christie will be looking to do just that, Frizell especially after being one of the shining lights in an otherwise disappointing Highlander’s campaign. The rest of the forward pack, especially in the front row (Moody, Taylor, and Laulala), will give the North’s squad a real challenge throughout the match.
The backline is where the South squad seems to be outmatched, however the chemistry between players may prove to be the key. A majority crusaders backline featuring All blacks number 10 Richie Mo’unga, George Bridge, Jack Goodhue, Braydon Ennor, and Will Jordan will look to continue the blistering attack that won them the Super Rugby Aotearoa title this year.
Brad Weber and Jordie Barrett will have interesting matchups and again will be looking to fight their way into the All Black side. Leicester Faingaanuku off the bench will give the South side more pace and try-scoring ability.