Patrick McKendry 's Opinion

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Chance for Thrush to stake his claim

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Jeremy Thrush of the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images
Jeremy Thrush of the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images

It's probably not too much of a stretch to suggest this is the most important match of Jeremy Thrush's career.

The 28-year-old will have been told that his first start for the All Blacks, after three substitute appearances, is his chance to cement his place in the locking pecking order, a position about to become much deeper with the imminent return from injury of Crusaders Luke Romano and Dominic Bird. Romano is with the All Blacks in Dunedin as he recovers from his groin problem, while Bird is close to returning from his chest injury for Canterbury.

A place on the northern tour might not depend on his performance, but coach Steve Hansen will be explicitly stating what he wants from Thrush. A below-par effort could see the Hurricanes player lose a lot of ground. It is understood that after waiting a long time for his big break he has impressed the selectors in his brief appearances against France in June and Argentina - twice - in the Rugby Championship, and in training.

Thrush will line up alongside senior lock Sam Whitelock, with Brodie Retallick getting time off but still on the reserves bench, and in Australia he couldn't wish for a better international side to play against.

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Yes, the Wallabies' forwards fronted against Argentina in Rosario a couple of weeks ago a few hours after the All Blacks' epic victory over the Springboks in Johannesburg but their opposition dusted off the welcome mat.

There were expectations that the Pumas could pick up their first victory of the Rugby Championship but it quickly became apparent that they were running on tired legs and succumbed 54-17 in the home side's second-worst defensive effort of the competition. Their worst was their 73-13 thrashing at the hands of the Boks in Bloemfontein.

Thrush, therefore, should find himself in a forward pack on the front foot and need only concentrate on the key roles Retallick has quickly become expert at - that is, push hard in a scrum which should have almost complete dominance, win lineout ball and kickoffs and clear rucks. The last is an area Retallick has few peers in.

Chiefs captain Craig Clarke would probably have been in front of Thrush had he stayed in New Zealand rather than signing with Connacht in Ireland, but Thrush played well for the Hurricanes this season. On several occasions he was the pick of their forwards and he will need to continue in that vein in order to hold off 22-year-old Bird.

After making his test debut last year, Romano is well ahead of Thrush, but it is the confident and aggressive Bird who is probably his main rival. At 2.06m, Bird is 8cm taller too.

Thrush has experience, though, and now he has his chance; with the guarantee of a dry ball under the stadium roof, he must take it with both hands.

- APNZ

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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