Since Jerome Kaino left his post, the All Blacks had been waiting for a player to step up and claim the No. 6 jersey as their own. In 2023, Shannon Frizell finally did. Now he’s heading overseas and the All Blacks are back where they started. Christopher Reive looks at some of 2024′s likely candidates to get a shot at filling the void.
Ethan Blackadder - Crusaders
For many, Blackadder will be the top choice. He brings a physical presence, with a big engine and a huge work rate around the park. Blackadder got the World Cup call ahead of Samipeni Fianu (see below), so that might be an indication of the pecking order, while incoming coach Scott Robertson is familiar with Blackadder and knows what he bring. However, there are huge question marks around his durability. Perhaps it’s a result of said desire for work and physicality that he has spent a lot of time in the casualty ward in the last couple of years. Blackadder made his All Blacks debut in 2021, but was kept out of the squad due to a shoulder issue in 2022, then had his 2023 campaign disrupted by leg injuries for most of 2023.
Samipeni Finau - Chiefs
An unlucky exclusion from the All Blacks’ World Cup squad, Finau did himself no disservice through his opportunities in the black jersey during the Rugby Championship this year. The 24-year-old was said to have impressed All Blacks forward coach Jason Ryan this year with his ability to provide a traditional blindside enforcer role - run, hit, carry and clean hard. Finau has the added asset of his height, which makes him a reliable lineout target, while he can also get up to challenge opponents’ throws. He will have plenty of opportunities to press his case for an All Blacks return in 2024 in a new-look Chiefs team.
Akira Ioane – Blues
Extending his time with New Zealand Rugby for another two years is a clear indication that he still holds All Blacks aspirations. At 28 years old, time is still on his side and his talents are a known commodity. He can be a bulldozer with the ball in hand and a strike weapon from close-range set pieces. What has worked against him in the past has been his work rate, and although he had forged his way into regular playing time under Ian Foster’s reign prior to 2023, Ioane will now have to work to impressive the new regime at the helm of the All Blacks and prove he belongs at the highest level.
Luke Jacobson - Chiefs
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Strong at the breakdown with a decent running game and one of those “concrete shoulder” players who like to make sure their opponent feels it when they make a tackle, Jacobson ticks all the boxes for a hard-working, physical presence on the field. Jacobson has spent most of his time at the back of the scrum over the last couple of years for the Chiefs, and earned his way back into the All Blacks squad in 2023 after falling out of favour last year. It would be a true shock to see anyone displace Ardie Savea from the All Blacks No. 8 jersey, but Jacobson’s history on the blindside and ability to cover all three positions in the back row is a big bonus when it comes to selection.
Cullen Grace – Crusaders
If the All Blacks are looking for a lineout-jumping blindside, Grace could be the one to play his way into the squad. Like Jacobson, he operates primarily at No. 8, but Grace can play at lock or on the blindside and is an absolute workhorse. There are similarities between he and Blackadder, right down to the questions over their durability, as Grace has spent his fair share of time unavailable due to injury as well. A good, consistent season for the Crusaders in 2024 could see him add to his one All Blacks test cap.
Scott Barrett – Crusaders
With Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick moving on, it’s far more likely we will see Scott Barrett continue his role at lock with the All Blacks, particularly with Scott Robertson preferring him there during his time with the Crusaders. However, Barrett has made four test starts on the blindside and gives the new selection panel a bit of room to move should they wish to blood a new locking combo. He’s athletic and has the engine to go for 80 minutes at test level.
Christopher Reive joined the Herald sports team in 2017, bringing the same versatility to his coverage as he does to his sports viewing habits.