All Blacks: In search of the perfect reserve

By Wynne Gray

Adam Thomson. Photo / Getty Images
Adam Thomson. Photo / Getty Images

Adam Thomson fits the multi-purpose loose forward template the All Black selectors have been seeking.

He wears the new white collared slim-fitting All Black jersey tonight as the nominal No 8 with interchange duties depending on where play is pitched at the Cake Tin.

Sometimes he will revert to openside against the Springboks, at others he will work off the back of the scrum while he remains a strong lineout alternative.

At a pinch, the 1.96m, 110kg Thomson could fill in at lock. The 29-year-old has done his time in 18 tests as an open or blind flanker and tonight squares off from the boot of the scrum.

That flexibility is a magic potion for the All Black selectors who are searching for the right balance in their mix of loose forwards for the World Cup.

They want five loosies to allow them to pick four specialist locks, four props and three hookers in their forward mix. The key is finding quality loosies with wide-ranging specialist skills to sit in behind the premier trio - Kieran Read, captain Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino.

Thomson fits the template. He is ultra-fast, strong at the breakdown, an effective cover-defender, useful in the air and is reading the game well in all three roles.

He played six for the Highlanders, covering seven and thought that dual role would help his All Black chances. Then came the curveball No 8 selection. "It blindsided me a little bit but once we sat down and talked about the way we wanted to take things I saw it as an opportunity and a real challenge," he said.

In the opening test against Fiji, Liam Messam occupied the No 8 position and remains in the hunt for backup loosie's duties.

However, Thomson's impact may upset Messam's run. If the panel believe Thomson provides complete cover they will ponder whether they are better with specialist openside backup from Matt Todd, Daniel or Luke Braid, Scott Waldrom or blends of skills from Messam or Victor Vito as the extra loosie.

Thomson played No 8 for Otago last year and covered those duties with the Highlanders when Nasi Manu was subbed late in Super 15 games. He did not give the job any more thought until this week when forwards coach Steve Hansen tapped him on the shoulder and told him about the new plan.

"Once the set piece is over the number on your back doesn't really mean too much, and you are just a loose forward enjoying your role and playing rugby," Thomson said.

He had nailed his research last week at Carisbrook, this week was about learning a new role, moves and job description.

"You just have to put the work in, get clarity and make sure you know your role inside and out. You can't cruise on autopilot like you might in the lower grades where you can get away with it."

Being able to play all three loose forward roles was an advantage at selection and Thomson was mindful of those attributes.

He needed to show he could handle pressure games and roles to be part of the World Cup group.

"It is a massive step up from Super rugby to test rugby and the man who understands his role and has clarity and executes under pressure is the guy who can handle it so that's what it's all about this week."

Others needing that form for a mix of reasons tonight are Cory Jane, Zac Guildford, Ali Williams and Wyatt Crockett.

Some are in last chance territory as the injured recover, some are in a plain old selection squeeze and others need to ramp up their form.

Adam Thomson

11 matches in Wellington
7 All Black wins
3 Springbok wins
1 draw

- NZ Herald

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