Gregor Paul on rugby

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: The All Blacks need a hard man

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Jarrad Hoeata. Photo / Getty Images.
Jarrad Hoeata. Photo / Getty Images.

The country needs a hard man - a big scary bloke who keeps the Wallaby pack awake at night. Someone just a touch mental - on the cusp of being feral.

Ideally, two borderline psychos will emerge this year as the All Blacks have lost their enforcement department now that both Brad Thorn and Jerome Kaino have gone.

Both Thorn and Kaino will be greatly missed for many reasons, but it was the volatility and extreme physicality they brought that will be hardest to replace.

The All Black pack became an entirely different proposition from late 2009. That was when Kaino began to fulfil his destructive potential and regularly terrify opponents with his explosive tackling and desire to really put himself about. In combination with Thorn - a bloke whose giant mitts and hoofs were prone to be a little clumsy when required - those two added an intimidation factor.

It's not so hard to build a pack of stunning athletes and ball players.

The All Blacks had one of those at the 2003 World Cup and they had their moments. But they lacked an edge, a sense of brutality and never emanated that All Black ethos of old that they had players prepared to do whatever it took to win.

Thorn brought that old school philosophy that the referee was more a guide than a definitive authority. He had arms the size of Christmas hams and a glare that could curdle milk. Even Bakkies Botha would have been wary of invoking the wrath of Thorn.

Kaino was much the same - a line in the sand player who made it clear he was willing to accept and inflict pain in equal measure to carry out his job. In the World Cup semi-final both James O'Connor and Quade Cooper ran with caution - always fearful of where Kaino and Thorn may have been lurking. No one likes to find themselves in a dark alley with such uncompromising characters.

The All Blacks need similar characters to emerge this year - someone just a touch nasty to play the tight locking role is a non-negotiable. All eyes will be on Jarrad Hoeata when he returns to action on Saturday.

He seems the best bet to develop into a ruthless mass of controlled fury. He's got that natural desire to enforce himself on the game and check out the resolve of others. He appears the most likely heir apparent to Thorn.

Finding a similar beast to Kaino is going to be more of a problem. Adam Thomson is the best performing No 6 in the country but his game is different - he's a ball carrier, a runner and off-loader who is at his best roaming wide.

Victor Vito has the physical attributes to be a tight, crunchy blindside who sits people down in the tackle and lords it over them. But so far he's come across as too nice. Liam Messam is a glorious ball player but not an intimidator and George Whitelock is probably not test class.

The man with the most promise is Brad Shields - a bruising 110kg presence who at just 20 has found his feet at Super Rugby this season. It's early days in his career, but longer term, he's maybe the one most likely to replace what is being lost.

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