The Super Rugby season has reached its midway point and some All Blacks are already showing some fearsome early-season form.
With hot competition for places in the squad against the Lions, we look at five All Blacks whose names must already be pencilled into Steve Hansen’s notebook.
1 Ardie Savea
Ardie Savea has had an explosive start to the 2017 season. The adjective ‘unstoppable’ was uttered more than a few times by commentators when describing his play against the Reds last Saturday in which he made 104 metres, four clean breaks, four defenders beaten and set up one try. Ardie has scored four tries in five games this year and is third of all players in clean breaks.
In a recent interview in the New Zealand media, Ardie has set his sights high – aiming to become the best player in the world. Interestingly, he is currently playing at No. 8, which will no doubt please Steve Hansen given the dearth of experience behind Kieran Read in the position. Seems to be bigger, stronger and faster and looks set for a sensational year.
2. Julian Savea
Did big bro Julian train with Ardie during the off-season? Julian Savea has consistently been a slow starter in Super Rugby seasons as he has tended to ease himself off festive season diets a touch slowly for the liking of many coaches.
2017, however, is a different year and a new, streamlined ‘Bus’ is already wreaking havoc in the Hurricanes backline. Savea has scored five tries in as many games, leads all players in clean breaks and is top five in defenders beaten.
3. Brodie Retallick
Big, mean Brodie’s combination with a resurgent Dominic Bird is one of the main reasons why the Chiefs have gone five games unbeaten, including a win against reigning champions the Hurricanes.
Dominant and disruptive in the lineout, pacy and skilful in open play, and with a real intelligence in decision making in which his aggressive play almost always stays on the right side of the law.
4. Sam Whitelock
Like the Chiefs, Whitelock’s Crusaders are on an unbeaten hot streak and, as captain, Sam Whitelock must take a lot of credit.
Many of the victories have been come-from-behind affairs, and Whitelock and coach Scott Robertson have installed a fantastic team ethic in which all squad players have performed brilliantly under pressure, despite injuries to frontline players. Whitelock himself has played as tirelessly and accurately as ever.
5. Malakai Fekitoa
One of the real areas of competition for places in the All Blacks against the Lions is in midfield. Fekitoa had a lukewarm season last year, lacking the pace, power and natural verve which torpedoed him into the All Black squad in his rookie Super season two years ago.
This season, Fekitoa has reportedly been working on his speed, and his brace of tries against the Rebels showed that the explosiveness is back. With Sonny Bill Williams returning from injury soon, Rieko Ioane and George Moala impressing for the Blues and incumbents Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert Brown also in the mix, Fekitoa’s electric form needs to continue and he will also need to outshine his rivals when he meets them in head-to-head duels.
Honorable Mentions: Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena
Read More About: 2017 British and Irish Lions, All Blacks, All Blacks News, ardie savea, beauden barrett, brodie retallick, julian savea, Malakai Fekitoa, new zealand rugby, sam whitelock, southern hemisphere rugby, steve hansen