Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Mini trial great for selectors

6 comments
As for the game itself, it was evident that the Highlanders wanted the Chiefs to have the ball. Photo / Getty Images
As for the game itself, it was evident that the Highlanders wanted the Chiefs to have the ball. Photo / Getty Images

When I arrived at Waikato Stadium for the blockbuster between the Chiefs and Highlanders on Saturday, I saw All Black selectors Grant Fox, Ian Foster and Steve Hansen and thought to myself, "I know exactly why you're here".

This was a mini All Black trial, one between the then top team in the competition against last year's champions. The trio would have left the match with a lot of questions answered.

Ahead of next month's three tests against Wales, they would have seen how players perform in certain pressure situations; they may have seen players in a new light and may have had their belief in others reinforced.

As for the game itself, it was evident that the Highlanders wanted the Chiefs to have the ball. They were happy to kick it to them. But they kicked very accurately and put them under so much aerial pressure that the Chiefs often coughed up the ball.

That was all down to their commitment levels and accuracy. In doing so, they shut some key Chiefs attackers out of the game.

They were comfortably ahead at the break and in the second half, they were ruthless. They showed incredible patience and composure.

Last week, in beating the Brumbies in Invercargill, they showed those qualities on defence. This time, they showed them on attack, because they had to string plenty of phases together for all three of their tries.

In short, they were the better side on the night by a country mile.

I don't think the Chiefs played to anywhere near their potential but they haven't for a couple of weeks. But for all their inconsistent form and injury issues, they are still there and I wouldn't write them off yet. They are too well coached and organised for that. In fact, this defeat might be the lightning bolt they need.

With the champions putting them to the sword and the Crusaders surpassing them at the top of the table, this might be a turning point in the Chiefs' season.

Of the individual clashes, Waisake Naholo grabbed all the headlines and I don't need to add too much more other than his return is fantastic for the All Blacks and Highlanders.

The big match-ups probably didn't eventuate. It's hard to judge halfbacks when one team is dominating.

Aaron Cruden is probably the incumbent All Black first-five, but I believe Lima Sopoaga showed the game management and maturity he revealed in his only test against the Springboks at Ellis Park last year. What a great time to perform like that in front of the selectors.

Chiefs midfielder Charlie Ngatai was involved in a controversial incident when tipping Elliot Dixon. But the unfortunate and accidental incident was the only blight on his game. Yes, he dropped the ball a couple of times but he made a lot of breaks and I think the selectors would have been impressed.

One moment of clarity for them would probably have concerned Malakai Fekitoa. I don't think second-five is his position - he needs more space and is better suited to centre.

I believe Ben Smith is close to being the best player on the planet. Unfortunately perhaps for Damian McKenzie and Israel Dagg, Smith's best position is fullback. But the selectors wouldn't have been disappointed with McKenzie.

Last week, I wrote about Movement Month May, and the Crusaders and Highlanders have made their moves. The Blues made theirs as well, breaking a 27-game losing streak away from Auckland. The big losers from New Zealand were the Chiefs and Hurricanes.

Whoever finishes second in the New Zealand conference will have to travel for a playoff match so the race is on for that No1 spot.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

Read more by Justin Marshall

Sort by
  • Oldest
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 02 Oct 2016 10:33:39 Processing Time: 528ms