The Super Rugby season is fast approaching and with it will come some huge opportunities for a host of players, and one interesting subplot of the coming season is the All Blacks midfield.
The centre positions are now up for grabs after what seems like an eternity of the Ma’a Nonu-Conrad Smith combination (we’re not complaining about that partnership’s longevity by the way).
The question now is who is going to step up and take their place. Let’s take a look at the number 13 jersey, which is the one with the most contenders.
Here are the top five players who will be gunning for that position.
Ranger, who can most adequately be described as a walking highlight reel, is back in New Zealand and has to be one of the front runners in the race for the 13 jersey. He had just muscled his way into the All Blacks when contractual obligations forced him to move to France and ultimately lose his chances of going to the RWC last year.
He is a very strong and abrasive player both in attack and defence and has proven himself to be a game changer on many occasions. He has been linking up well with Moala at the Blues and under the tutelage of Tana Umaga can expect to only get better and better. No doubt the 29-year-old will be gunning to claim that jersey.
The favourite to move into the number 13 jersey, he has become a fixture in Steve Hansen’s squad since his debut against England in 2014. He has deputised for Conrad Smith on many occasions and is well aware of the coaching staff’s expectations.
His skill set in the position is ever improving. He is a physical player, defensively very solid and is mproving quickly in terms of his distribution skills. This is going to be a big season for him as he has been biding his time and waiting to make the 13 jersey his.
The talented Chiefs centre has been developing very nicely in the past couple of years. Having been an integral part of Taranaki’s ITM Cup success in 2014 and won ITM cup Player of the Year that same year he was signed by the Chiefs and had put in some very good performances until injury struck.
He featured for the New Zealand Barbarians against the Maori All Blacks last year and he gave us a taste of what he is capable of at a higher level putting in a destructive display. He possesses pace, power, a good skill set and provided he stays injury free he could set this year’s competition alight. His huge potential has not gone unnoticed as he was called in to train with the All Blacks last year, so he definitely is on Steve Hansen’s radar.
Already a regular in Hansen’s camps, Crotty is also in with a shout. He has received a few caps under Hansen and after the disappointment of not making the RWC squad last year he will be desperate to take back his place.
He is familiar with the systems Hansen employs and will no doubt be a very good option. He brings some real intelligent play and always manages to to find himself in the right place at the right time. He also has a very high skill set and huge leadership potential. If his recent trip to Chicago to promote the match against Ireland at Soldier Field is anything to go by then you can’t be blamed for fancying his chances.
Having captained the Maori All Blacks and been capped last year, Ngatai wouldn’t be an outside bet to stake a claim for that jersey. His leadership, versatility and intelligent play have made him an integral part of the Chiefs’ backline.
He carries well and runs some very good lines. Defensively he is a good decision maker too. Hansen and co. clearly see some value and potential in him and will be keen observers of his progress throughout the season.
Gavin Nyawata, Pundit Arena