An inexperienced All Black team survived a close encounter against a French XV winning 28-23 on Tuesday night.
The win was a positive step towards increasing a large player base leading into the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Six players made their All Black debut in this match including Canterbury fly-half Richie Mouanga and former seven’s star Akira Ioane.
The tour match is beneficial, as coach Steve Hansen will have seen how his young chargers handled being an All Black without the pressure of a full international fixture.
With a Test match coming up against Scotland at the weekend, let us look at three players from last night’s match who have pushed their case for inclusion to take the field at Murrayfield:
1. Liam Squire
After missing the first match against France due to illness, Squire showed in 53 minutes why he is an important member of the All Black forward pack. The mobile flanker played with his accustomed physicality on defence and mobility running freely in the wide spaces.
This included scoring the first try of the match. His large presence while being on the field helped the younger players settle into the game.
With Vaea Fifita having a quiet night in Paris, a recall for the raw-boned Squire will be on the cards. Squire provides a lot of sting with his high impact tackling which will help the All Blacks set the tone of the game this weekend.
His ability to range out wide with his speed gives the All Blacks an extra reason to look to play their high tempo open style of running.
With Kieran Read also operating out wide on the tramlines, the All Blacks have a dual threat with a mobile loose forward operating on both sides of the field.
2. Tawera Kerr-Barlow
Many are predicting that last night’s match will be the 27 Test-capped half-back’s last in a black jersey. This is due to his imminent departure to La Rochelle at the end of this tour.
Competing with regular incumbents Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara for the remainder of this tour may see Kerr-Barlow struggle to make any more match-day squads.
TKB has been a key contributor in both the non-internationals of this tour. Against the Barbarians, he showed calm decision-making and clinical direction. This was in contrast to Perenara who was erratic with his passing accuracy at Twickenham.
The French XV game was one of Kerr-Barlow’s best as an All Black. He was heavily involved and ensured that his clearances from the ruck were quick to apply pressure on the defence.
His energy and willingness to speed up play was a large factor in the All Blacks win. He has definitely done enough to be in the frame for one more Test appearance.
3. Ngani Laumape
Like Kerr-Barlow, Laumape in two tour matches has been a key contributor. The midfield back causes large issues with his powerful bursts through the opposition midfield.
His robust running style and low centre of gravity make him hard to stop close to the attacking try line. He has shown this in both tour matches that he has featured in so far with a try in each appearance.
The former rugby league player is a key part of the All Blacks strategy of exiting out of their danger zone, where he is used for extra go forward from scrums before making clearance kicks.
Laumape has the ability to show nice touches in setting up tries. His quick hands helped Matt Duffie to cross over for the first try of the match. A poor pass did lead to a French XV intercept try, however. Building consistency with his passing game will go a long way to earning a regular place for international matches.
With the experienced duo of Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty being Hansen’s preferred midfield combination, Laumape may need to bide his time. The 24-year-old will be in competition with Anton Lienert-Brown for a spot on the bench for the remainder of the tour.
Lienert-Brown offers more versatility and has a more varied game. Laumape does have impact every time he is on the field and will be an effective weapon in making line breaks.
Out of these three players, Liam Squire will have the best chance of securing a starting jersey due to being a regular in the first XV throughout 2017.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow has been the third-choice half-back for the majority of his career and will want one last international appearance.
Ngani Laumape is in good form, which will be hard to ignore. The benefit of having non-internationals on this tour allows players to push their cases for positions in the Test team.
Carlin Crossan, Pundit Arena