Openside has never been a position of weakness for New Zealand, with illustrious names such as Richie McCaw, Josh Kronfeld and Michael Jones wearing 7 on their back over the years.
For the November internationals Steve Hansen has an embarrassment of riches in the position. Here we take a look at the 57-year-old’s options.
From early on in his career Cane was dubbed as the future replacement for All Blacks legend McCaw; admittedly big boots to fill but he has done a fine job filling them so far. Cane offers plenty at the breakdown – a key area for New Zealand, and with Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read likely to start at blindside and number 8 respectively, a specialist 7 would be the key to a balanced back row.
With 37 test caps, he offers the most in terms of international experience and having started at openside in six of the ten games for the All Blacks since the retirement of McCaw, he seems to be the safest option.
However, Cane has not played for the All Blacks since the 57-22 victory over Argentina in September due to an injury he sustained in that game. Indeed, after just a half of rugby in the last month, doubts have been raised over his match fitness, perhaps weakening his case to start in Chicago against Ireland.
Arguably one of the form players in the world at the moment, and certainly one of the best flankers in world rugby, Savea has enjoyed a monumental season for the Hurricanes and has firmly established himself in the All Blacks set-up too, having made his debut against Wales in June.
Since then, Savea has been involved in each of New Zealand’s ten matches, starting three of them. Savea offers the greatest attacking threat of the three options at 7, with a dangerous running game and an exceptional work rate.
Described by Hansen as ‘good enough to start, but serves the team best off the bench’, it seems likely that Savea will be viewed as the impact substitute for this tour as well.
The final option for Hansen’s back row is Crusader Matt Todd. An out-and-out openside, Todd confirmed himself as one of New Zealand’s best backrowers with a fantastic Super Rugby season, having been left out of the victorious Rugby World Cup squad last year.
Having made his debut in 2013, Todd has been around the camp for a long time, and knows the way the All Blacks work.
Todd started New Zealand’s final Bledisloe Cup game playing superbly well while proving to be a problem at ruck time for even an experienced Wallaby back row. Probably the least known of the three, Todd will get a chance this November to show what he can do again.
The likelihood is that if Cane is fit then he will start, as he is the most experienced option New Zealand have, with Savea on the bench to come on with 30 minutes to go, where he would have a great impact.
Todd will get to play in November, and in a situation where Cane is not considered fit enough to play against Ireland, it is likely Todd will start in Chicago over Savea, with Hansen preferring him on the bench.
Oscar Reilly, Pundit Arena
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