Red and black backrow an option for All Blacks

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 26/06/2013
Matt Todd
IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
STAYING HOME: Matt Todd will not travel with the All Blacks to Argentina.

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OPINION: At the risk of being accused of parochial piffle how about an all-Canterbury backrow for the All Blacks' Rugby Championship campaign?

Kieran Read is an institution at No 8 - arguably the greatest the All Blacks have had in that pivotal position.

It's also a no-brainer that longtime captain Richie McCaw will be fast-tracked back after his sabbatical. The All Blacks certainly need their savvy skipper at the breakdown.

There was plenty to like about the All Blacks' clean-sweep series victory over France. But the French back-row shaded the New Zealanders in two of the three tests. Thierry Dusautoir and his mates have had a slight edge for a while now, including the 2011 Rugby World Cup final when they were up against McCaw, Read and Jerome Kaino.

So it's a given that McCaw will be back to lead the All Blacks for the August 17 series opener against the Wallabies in Sydney. But what number should he sport on his back?

A fully-refreshed McCaw may still be the best option at open-side flanker. But would the All Blacks get a better backrow balance by shifting the skipper to No 6 and bringing in his Crusaders colleague Matt Todd as the starting No 7?

Dismiss this notion, if you like, as the ranting of a rogue reporter with a clear Kaiapoi bias. But former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains made a telling point on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report on Monday. Like Hansen, Mains played his rugby in the backline but staked his coaching reputation on his tutelage of forwards.

He said he wasn't sure if the All Blacks had the right mix at open-side flanker for the French series.

"I know Richie McCaw is to come back in but ... I'm not sure Sam Cane's best position is open-side flanker. I don't think there's enough scrapping done on the ground there. Personally, I'm a fan of Matt Todd. That's an area of his game that he's very strong at."

Hansen could get bold and play Todd and McCaw as dual open-sides in a left-right system. But there's another good reason to move McCaw to the six slot. The All Blacks haven't really replaced Kaino there since the Aucklander's move to Japan. Liam Messam has been an adequate stop-gap but Victor Vito didn't nail his opportunity in New Plymouth last night and Blues project Steven Luatua simply needs more time to develop.

McCaw has the physicality to play the blindside role and is a better ball carrier than Messam or Vito. He could seamlessly make the shift much as Michael Jones - McCaw's chief rival for the mantle of greatest All Black of all-time - did in his twilight years in the mid 1990s.

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A Canter-black backrow would give the All Blacks two strong ball carriers (Read and McCaw), two sure lineout options (Read and McCaw again) and the two best breakdown bandits (Todd and McCaw) in New Zealand rugby. It also offers an opportunity to blood Luatua off the bench.

If the Crusaders make the Super rugby playoffs Todd Blackadder could trial a Read-Todd-McCaw backrow. That would be a tough hand to deal George Whitelock, who has been one of the Crusaders' more consistent players in a yo-yo year. But it might ultimately be in the national interest.

- The Press

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