I find it incredulous that some rugby scribes believed Sonny Bill Williams would be the answer to the All Blacks backline woes for Saturday’s third test in Dunedin after last weekend’s shambolic 26-13 win against brave France’s 14.
That French fullback Benjamin Fall was red-carded early for his accidental collision with a concussed Beauden Barrett while leaping for a towering punt was a shame that left the tourists facing a huge unwarranted handicap.
That France dominated the breakdown and pressured the All Blacks into so many handling errors spoke volumes for their attitude and exposed the lack of match fitness of so many All Blacks because of injuries and suspensions.
That, however, didn’t excuse errors of judgment from such talented players as Aaron Smith, Damian McKenzie and TJ Perenara in what was an unusual bumbling performance from the home team against a courageous French challenge.
True, it wasn’t the best midfield performance by Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown, who have combined so well in the past. But to suggest SBW was the answer after such a long injury layoff was ridiculous.
Certainly at Super Rugby level champion try scorer Ngani Laumape has more impressive overall credentials than the veteran Williams who is renowned mainly for his exquisite offloads. However it would also be interesting to see how the powerful running Laumape would fare at centre outside the likes of Richie Mo’unga and Crotty.
Another option could be to try Jordie Barrett at second-five if Ben Smith was to be returned to his best spot at fullback although Barrett was one of the All Blacks’ best in Wellington where he scored two tries.
Smith also picked up a nice one on the right wing where Waisake Naholo also remains an exciting option.
With France’s forwards exposing so many weaknesses in the All Blacks pack, coach Steve Hansen will be demanding a much-improved performance this Saturday night under the roof in Dunedin.
Interestingly, McKenzie was at his dazzling best in the first Eden Park test when he came off the bench as a substitute fullback and made three glorious breaks, two of which reaped tries, by accelerating through gaps out wide. But when it comes to tactical nous as a first-five, the cool-headed Mo’unga has more to offer.
With Ireland bouncing back 26-21 in Melbourne to tame champion first test loosies David Pocock and Michael Hooper to square their series against Australia, Saturday’s decider should make compelling viewing.
Kurtley Beale scored a wonderful try to set the Wallabies rolling but Johnny Sexton’s boot ruled the game for the Irish and limited attacking opportunities for star Aussie fullback Israel Folau.
Having already lost the series to South Africa, Eddie Jones’ England have only pride to play for against South Africa, as do Argentina against Wales.
At this point, the Springboks and Wallabies are shaping up as much tougher opponents for the All Blacks than they were last year.
Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author