Rugby: Brad Shields out to state his case for black jersey

By Campbell Burnes

Brad Shields is hard on the heels of the best loose forwards in the country. Photo / NZME
Brad Shields is hard on the heels of the best loose forwards in the country. Photo / NZME

Brad Shields is refreshed, mentally as much as physically, as he contemplates a vital last three regular season matches with the Hurricanes, starting with tonight's home clash with the Blues in Wellington.

The 24-year-old loose forward was consistency personified for the franchise prior to the June window and he is now ready for the final push in a log-jammed New Zealand Super Rugby conference.

"It's always a tough one, having a break after gaining a little bit of momentum, but you still have to tick the [training] boxes," says Shields, who fitted in a game with his Petone club, and a friendly against the Rebels in Melbourne last week.

Shields was understandably not wanting to enter the debate on national rankings of players who can play six or eight. Team is paramount for him.

Despite the absence of Liam Messam, there is a logjam that is the envy of the rugby world.

This is a rough national ranking of those players: Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino, Elliot Dixon, Liam Squire, Jordan Taufua, Brad Shields, Steven Luatua, Luke Whitelock and Victor Vito. The latter is rated that low as he is due to head to La Rochelle in France next month.

But the reality is that there is little between Shields and Taufua and the new All Blacks Dixon and Squire. Luatua has fallen off the pace slightly, despite having the priceless ability to play in the second row as well.

Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd is unsure of where Shields fits into the bigger picture, but is crystal-clear on what he brings to the Hurricanes.

"I'm not exactly sure what the All Blacks are looking for in their loose forwards, but Brad does an amazing job for us in combination with Ardie and Victor. His skillset definitely fits our loose trio. He just has to continue knocking on the door and sooner or later that consistent form should be rewarded," says Boyd.

"Brad brings a relentless, ruthless edge. He often tops the post-tackle work, and often the tackle count. He's a smart player and accurate."

Shields can carry well, but the Hurricanes tend to use him as a cleaner - as they have plenty of carriers from Dane Coles to Vaea Fifita and Vito - so his numbers with the ball are not in the Ardie Savea vicinity.

In 2015 he skippered the New Zealand Barbarians to good effect in the sterling win over the Maori All Blacks, and then continued that run into his captaincy with the Wellington Lions before injury intervened. He may be unlucky that he is in the most competitive position in the country, but equally there is little doubt that this Hurricanes loose trio stacks up as close to the best in the country, rivalled only by the Crusaders' threesome of Read, Matt Todd and Taufua.

That's why Shields will relish the chance to mark the incumbent All Blacks No 6 Jerome Kaino, a man who has not yet recaptured the heights of his Rugby World Cup form.

"All the Super games are physical, but you tend to get up for the derbies. They often go down to the wire. It's tough on the body but you love playing them. The Blues will be an awesome challenge. All you can do is ... play your best footy."

- NZ Herald

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