Players to watch in 2021


My thoughts as follows, and I’ve gotta be honest here: the 2020 international season was almost a non-event for me. Between Covid-19 hovering in the background, misgivings re the coach and captain, really unpalatable scheduling and results and what I saw/see as just the outright unnecessary demolition of what could have been the greatest domestic competition in more than a decade, I’d largely lost interest in the All Blacks, for the first time since I was about 9 I reckon.

As such, I didn’t follow performances as closely as I normally otherwise would, so if I gloss over a name or two below, please forgive me.

Hooker
currently still well-served by Coles and Taylor but we need at least one of the younger brigade to put their hand up this year or worst case next. Most likely is Aumua.


Props
Plenty of options and plenty of promising options. It’ll be fascinating if the young talent at the Crusaders can compete instantly with the Blues’ hoard of AB props - this’ll be a perfect proving ground for the likes of Williams and Newell.

Locks
Similar to the rake position ie well-served by world class veterans at present (Whitelock, Retallick) plus other decent options like Tuipulotu and Barrett but we need a really good 2m+ guy to force his way in.

There are plenty of youthful guys who fit the category eg Strange, Selby- Rickett, IWL and Parkinson.


Blindside
Up for grabs, big time, IMHO.

Frizzell is a mixed bag, Squire could be anything this year, Fifita has plenty of space before he reaches his ceiling, Ioane could be used here, Grace could be used at 6 (or 8) and there’s Jacobsen and Papali’i.

I’d love to see Fifita shore up his physicality and become a true swingman option in the ABs.

Openside
Refer the shit storm I created last year on the Cane vs Savea thread. I don’t wish to re-hash it all but my feelings remain the same.

Nonetheless, we’re well served here until the next RWC at least, by both. But another guy needs to stand up and put some pressure on.

I think Lentjes has the best all-round game of the rest but he’s not a tyro. Kirifi and Harmon are midgets and don’t thrill me, so I’d like to see Lachlan Boshier - who’s efforts in the RS challenge last year still give me the shits - get a crack.


Number 8
Wide open. no-one locked it down last year and this year they’ll potentially have Cullen Grace as further competition.

Options aplenty though out of the Blues plus Jacobson.


Halfback
Smith won’t make it to the RWC and if Foster is counting on it he’s an even bigger muppet than I already give him credit for.

Fakatava is the big new noise here but untested at SR level for a start. There are several serviceable older options who haven’t or wouldn’t disgrace the black jersey.

First-five
Richie and Beaudy will take us through to the RWC but we need Ioane ideally to step up this year.

I’ve always liked Otere Black but his window is closing. DMac for mine is impact cover at fullback and 10 cover secondarily.


Second-five eighth
This is our most problematic position a) due to depth and b) due to selectorial pig-rooting around.

For mine, ALB is an international 12 all day, every day, who can cover centre. Goodhue is the exact opposite. Yet the selectors insist on playing them in reverse. Grrr. If they just played ALB at 12, (Goodhue, Laumape or J Barrett to cover) we’d at least have the first string option covered.

As for the back-up, as I just inferred, in a squad situation any of those three could provide cover but who would my actual #2 be? Probably the guy who played his best season of provincial footy in that position, and in combination with the likely centre selection in my XV (Goodhue). That would be Barrett. However, the Canes won’t play him there so the chances of this happening are quite low unfortunately.

Beyond those options, I don’t see any young guys ready to take the world by storm.


Centre
See above re Goodhue with ALB able to cover. Ioane should be an option there, as well as Ennor when fit. PUJ adds to the plethora of exciting, quality options.

Wings
Yikes. Clarke, Ioane, Bridge, Reece, Ennor (when fit), Jordan, and I reckon this year Leicester F will all be viable options, plus J Barrett.

Scary deep.

Fullback
Also plenty of options this year and/or through to the RWC. The Barretts, DMac, Jordan and Havili’i have us well covered.

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