Patrick McKendry 's Opinion

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Messam should get No 6 jersey over Luatua

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Liam Messam, 29, has played only 22 tests but made his debut way back in 2008. Photo / Getty Images
Liam Messam, 29, has played only 22 tests but made his debut way back in 2008. Photo / Getty Images

There is a battle brewing for the All Blacks' No6 jersey but the selection for Saturday will be a relatively easy one for Steve Hansen and Co - Liam Messam should start ahead of Steven Luatua.

Luatua has done well in his three Rugby Championship tests but the coaches aren't about to get ahead of themselves. He impressed when starting against Australia in Sydney when getting the nod late in the week due to Messam's hamstring injury and stepped up again in the return game in Wellington. He was prominent again against Argentina in Hamilton, especially with his ball carrying.

But there are several reasons Messam should, and in all likelihood will, start against the Springboks at Eden Park and none of them is Luatua's fault. The first is that it will be easier to manage the Chiefs' loose forward's comeback if he starts, something Hansen alluded to the day after his side's 28-13 win over the Pumas in Hamilton. If Messam re-aggravated his injury after replacing Luatua then the All Blacks are short of two forwards.

It would be more sensible to have Messam aiming to get through 45-50 minutes - if he has to be replaced earlier then little is lost.

Another is that Messam's experience will be crucial against a Springboks team confident they have the game plan and firepower to beat an All Blacks outfit without the skill and leadership of captain Richie McCaw.

Messam, 29, has played only 22 tests but made his debut way back in 2008. He has held a key leadership role at the Chiefs for the past two seasons, a period in which he has also developed into a tighter player. He is more prepared to go into the dark places, which has paid dividends for him and also his franchise.

That keenness to get involved in the tough stuff will be important against a South African pack confident of continuing the bullying tactics which paid off so well against the Wallabies at the weekend.

Matt Todd will come on to the bench as cover for Cane, which means Luatua will also have to cover lock, a role he played against France.

Hansen's ability to slowly introduce players in the All Blacks' environment without putting too much pressure on is impressive, but he can also hit the mark with a quip to keep their feet on the ground.

In Sydney he professed his satisfaction with Luatua's performance but noted a fair bit of walking had been done by the 22-year-old Blues player.

Luatua's time will come, but the foundations must first be laid. After all, you have to walk before you can run.

- NZ Herald

Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

Read more by Patrick McKendry

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