Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Backline a juggling act

Richie McCaw (left) and Sam Cane run through drills during a training session in Edinburgh. Photo / Hannah Johnston
Richie McCaw (left) and Sam Cane run through drills during a training session in Edinburgh. Photo / Hannah Johnston

Draw up the template for a modern fullback and then work out whether Beauden Barrett or Aaron Cruden best fits the criteria.

That exercise will have played out at selection meetings as the All Blacks work through their ideas on how best to get their whole squad into match sync against Scotland and Italy.

Maybe the answer is that neither quite fits the bill and Israel Dagg will start both tests while the others juggle the first five-eighths duties.

Those decisions will not become apparent until next week.

It seems the side's premier five-eighths, Daniel Carter, will begin against Scotland when the tourists start their four-test tour at Murray-field on Monday.

Assistant coach Ian Foster reiterated the staff viewed the next two games as a trial and opportunity to get the whole squad involved.

They had had a great deal of travel in the last six weeks and with more flying and only a six-day break between the first two internationals, they wanted to juggle the teams to make the best use of the squad.

"We are coming off a poor performance and there are a couple of steps we need to climb," Foster said.

The only fear they had in using mix-and-match selections was about not reaching the standards they had set for themselves.

That occurred in Brisbane. The squad and staff had debriefed that blip and Murrayfield was the first chance to display those learnings.

If all goes well in that test, which of Cruden and Barrett will start at five-eighths against Italy and does the other come off the bench or start at fullback?

Cruden has clicked over 17 tests and Barrett two as they work through their international apprenticeship.

If anything, Cruden shapes as a more inventive and daring five-eighths, a man best suited to the offensive thrust of Super rugby. He is tough, resilient for a smaller man and loves to run all match.

Barrett looks to have a game that may be more tailored to the demands of international rugby. He has a calm presence, a surety which belies his youth. He possesses a boot with great power, great speed and appears to be someone who always plays with his head up, thinking about three or four moves ahead.

Of the pair, that sounds more of a CV which could be used in the No15 jersey as well - there is more than a hint of Dagg about his work.

These issues which will have absorbed the selectors before nutting out the best combinations for the third and fourth tests on tour against Wales and England.

Foster and fellow selector Grant Fox were men who graced the game for lengthy periods in the No10 jersey. They know a thing or two about how the game has evolved and what qualities are needed from a first five-eighths.

They will have their checklists to mark the young competitors but they also bring years of savvy about the role's nuances which will help them make their choice.

They also know what the side is trying to achieve and which of the two is best equipped physically, with the right temperament and game computer, to deliver the outline they want.

One may be better equipped to deal with the directions which are coming from either side with his halfback and second-five, one may be better at taking command.

Whatever the decisions, the verdicts will offer lengthy debate.

- NZ Herald

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