South Africa unsurprisingly reverted to their strongest starting lineup to face top-ranked Ireland in a crunch pool game at the Rugby World Cup while also naming seven forwards and just one back on the bench today in a clear indication of how the Springboks aim to play.
The move was criticised then by some in the game as taking rugby down a dark road of just brute force forward play.
It effectively gives South Africa a new forward pack to bring on in the second half against Ireland at the Stade de France in Paris on Sunday. The winner of the game will likely finish top in Pool B and likely avoid a meeting with host France in the quarter-finals, although that will probably only mean a quarter against three-time champions the All Blacks.
Speaking of the three-time World Cup winners, NZ Herald Sport had a crack at putting together an All Blacks lineup if the men in black were to line up with the same split – assuming everyone is fit and available.
The big questions
Let’s go straight into the fun stuff. Who doesn’t like kicking around a few ‘what ifs’?
What happens if a midfielder gets injured?
This is immediately the most pressing concern for the All Blacks were they to pick a 7-1 bench – you’d feel comfortable putting just about any of these backs on the wing, but second five-eighths and centre have a lot of responsibility on defence and with ball in hand things can get messy with players out of position. If Jordie Barrett were to be injured again, Will Jordan stands out as someone with the physical attributes as well as the rugby brain best equipped to fill a midfield hole.
Leicester Fainga’anuku would be another option, if he were in the starting line up ahead of Mark Telea. A winger by trade, he has a strong running game and physicality in contact – he could fill a midfield hole, although there would be questions around defensive patterns.
But what if two backs go down injured?
Answering a question with a question is rarely a good approach, but in this case, it comes down to asking whether you feel comfortable putting a forward on the wing. Dalton Papali’i has pace, great ball skills and makes good decisions with ball in hand – it’s hard to imagine any wingers in world rugby relishing the proposition of marking him out wide.
Do you take a specialist halfback?
For a bench like this, versatility in the backs is crucial when you only have one. Cam Roigard impressive outing against Namibia means he’s leap-frogged Finlay Christie in the halfback pecking order and would give a better skillset with his running game to fill in another position.
OK, no halfback, who’s your one back then?
So you’ve decided against taking a halfback, you then need to pick a player that can play a multitude of positions for maximum cover. Damian McKenzie is the most versatile New Zealand have in their squad – and can cover first five-eighths, fullback and wing. In a pinch, we’d back him to plug a gap at halfback as well, should the need arise.
Our 7-1 line up
The starting XV
There shouldn’t be any surprises here. This starting forward pack has emerged as the best for New Zealand and when fit, provide balance across set piece and general play.
Laulala and de Groot got their scrums right against Namibia and with that appearing to be the key platform the All Blacks need to get right if they want to play their ball-in-hand running game, they’re the best to start. Codie Taylor is a good lineout thrower and provides grunt in his running game that has become a feature of the modern hooker.
Barrett and Retallick as primary lineout options with Frizell as a third have those bases covered, Barrett edging ahead of Sam Whitelock in the locking pecking order.
The loose forwards again are a solid mixture with the explosive running games of Savea and Frizell, while Sam Cane’s work rate in rucks and tackling provide what you need from an out-and-out openside.
Most of the focus will be on the forwards and bench but the backline is important to mention, too. All but one of these players will be required to play 80 minutes so it’s essential to get the starters right and this backline has talent across the park - Will Jordan, Reiko Ioane and both Barretts can play multiple positions. The dual playmaker set-up of Mo’unga at first five and Barrett at fullback may not have everyone sold, but the option at first receiver as well as their kicking game is crucial for the All Blacks.
Here’s where it gets interesting. A fresh front row is a given and there wouldn’t be many better reserve hookers to bring on than Samisoni Taukei’aho. Not only is he a good scrummager, but his running game and knack for scoring tries would be valuable off the bench in a tense World Cup match.
Now we enter hybrid territory – this is because Tupou Vaa’i would be expected to cover primarily a lock position as well as loose forward – he made his first start at blindside against France. Sam Whitelock is a straight lock option, perhaps the All Blacks take off a loose forward and move Barrett to blindside flanker? These are the possibilities available when you go with a bench split like this.
Dalton Papali’i is an ideal choice if you’re picking a bench of this nature, able to play right across the loose forwards and brings strong running and tackling as well as underrated work at the breakdown.
The 22 jersey is the hardest to pick with two strong contenders – Ethan Blackadder and Luke Jacobson. Both can play flanker or No 8, they’re the same height and only 4kg separate them in weight (Blackadder is the bigger at 111kg). They have also both had horrid luck with injuries, not that it’s exceedingly relevant in this imaginary world. The spot goes to Blackadder via split decision – the 2022 Crusaders Player of the Year provides just a little more mongrel.
Damian McKenzie makes the side as the solo back – he’s the most versatile player New Zealand has in their squad. There were shouts for Cam Roigard after his impressive outing against Namibia and fair enough, but for a bench like this versatility in the backs is crucial when you only have one little guy.
1. Ethan de Groot
2. Codie Taylor
3. Nepo Laulala
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Scott Barrett
6. Shannon Frizell
7. Sam Cane (c)
8. Ardie Savea
9. Aaron Smith
10. Richie Mo’unga
11. Mark Telea
12. Jordie Barrett
13. Rieko Ioane
14. Will Jordan
15. Beauden Barrett
16. Samisoni Taukei’aho
17. Ofa Tu’ungafasi
18. Fletcher Newell
19. Dalton Papali’i
20. Tupou Vaa’i
21. Samuel Whitelock
22. Ethan Blackadder
23. Damian McKenzie
Will Toogood is an Online Sports Editor for the NZ Herald. He has previously worked for Newstalk ZB’s digital team and at Waiheke’s Gulf News covering sport and events.