Saturday, July 20, 2024

Agnew: Too few berths for AB stars

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New Zealand rugby has never enjoyed greater depth. However keeping the best of the rising stars in face of lucrative offers from abroad could become a major problem.

Take the situation at first-five where Beauden Barrett’s brilliance has seen him upstage a still very gifted Aaron Cruden for the test starting berth.

Will Cruden be content to remain a reserve? And how long will 2015 Super Rugby Player of the Year Lima Sopoaga be content to be ranked No 3?

Which of course probably leaves the electrifying Damian McKenzie ranked No 4 among the first-fives and third behind Ben Smith and Israel Dagg among fullbacks in the eyes of the national selectors.

Just about any other country in the world would pay a fortune to have any of the above mentioned as their starting No 10.

Meanwhile while New Zealand is not going to be able to find midfield players of the calibre of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith overnight. Those who have filled the gap have done a good job.

No 12 Ryan Crotty was outstanding in the Sydney walloping of the Wallabies before having to be replaced in the second half and 21-year-old Anton Lienert-Brown was just as good in his Wellington test debut.

But for a bad injury sustained at the Rio Olympics, Sonny Bill Williams would probably have been the selectors first choice for the Wellington match.

Meanwhile, having sharpened his passing, hard-hitting Malakai Fekitoa deserves the centre spot.

However the best midfield back seen in Super Rugby before he suffered a bad concession was Charlie Ngatai who is equally at home wearing 12 or 13.

The wing situation remains strong despite the bad shoulder injury which left World Cup hero Nehe Milner-Skidder sidelined for the season, Julian Savea struggling for confidence and dynamic Waisake Naholo hamstrung after scoring a dazzling try in the Sydney test.

Replacing Naholo on the right wing was versatile Israel Dagg who scored two tries, the second a beauty when he sidestepped two defenders.

With Aaron Smith undoubtedly the world’s best halfback, New Zealand has strong back up with the likes of TJ Perenara, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Brad Wheeler.

The same applies to the loose forwards where in-form Steven Luatua can’t crack a test squad that includes Kieran Reed, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire and Elliot Dixon.

Having served a long apprenticeship in the shadow of Richie McCaw, Cane has grabbed his chance in the No 7 jersey well to hold off the challenge of Savea who, with Barrett and Dane Coles, was a key player in the Hurricanes Super Rugby championship triumph.

Having defeated the awful moaning Aussies, the All Blacks should find Argentina made of sterner mettle, having pipped South Africa to avenge their first test loss to the Boks.

Meanwhile the Silver Fern netballers exceeded expectations with a 26-goal win against England in Auckland despite the absence of injured Maria Tutaia and Anna Harrison whose replacements, Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Jane Watson, rose to the occasion splendidly.

None, however, had a better game than athletic goal shoot Bailey Mes whose speed and accuracy was outstanding.

While Australia will undoubtedly be much stronger than England, this was a confidence boosting win under new coach Janine Southby and inspirational captain Katrina Grant.

Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author


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