Dave Loveridge calls on All Blacks to pick Brad Weber, give Richie Mo'unga a start
The All Blacks name their Rugby Championship squad on Monday. In the lead up, past All Blacks combine to name a squad in a six-part Stuff series. Former halfback Dave Loveridge selects his halfbacks and first five-eighths.
Dave Loveridge's picks:
Recall Brad Weber and give Richie Mo'unga a start - that's the view of former All Blacks halfback Dave Loveridge for New Zealand's upcoming Rugby Championship campaign.
While Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara are established as first and second-choice No 9s respectively, the third halfback role is still up in the air with the World Cup just over a year away, thanks to the departure overseas of Tawera Kerr-Barlow at the end of last season.
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi was called into the squad for June's series against France, though the 23-year-old didn't end up playing and is considered a long-term development. Unlike Weber, he has also been included in the All Blacks wider training squad for a camp in Christchurch this week.
For all that Loveridge, who played 24 tests between 1978 and 1985, would be keen on seeing Tahuriorangi's Chiefs team-mate Weber given another crack, liking what his quick-fire game would offer off the bench.
Weber, 27, played his one and only test to date against Samoa in Apia in 2015 when Hurricanes and Highlanders players were unavailable due to the Super Rugby final. And, after dominating Tahuriorangi for game-time during the Chiefs' season, he has shown a return to some of his best touch, having missed the 2017 campaign through injury.
"He's certainly put his hand up, and that's been starting for the Chiefs too, which has been interesting," said Loveridge, who feels the Crusaders' Bryn Hall and Mitchell Drummond wouldn't be too far off contention, either.
"All their passing skills are pretty well up there. But you've probably got to look, if you're going to have a player on the bench, what sort of x-factor is he going to bring later on in the game. And I think Brad Weber does that.
"He just gives you that extra wee bit.
"If you've got someone, later on when teams are tiring, that's pretty sharp on their feet, that can be a bonus."
While smaller than any of the other halfbacks, Loveridge doesn't think that matters much for Weber, whose tackle/missed tackle percentage in Super Rugby was pretty decent.
"For me, personally, it doesn't (matter), as long as that skillset's there, as long as he can defend reasonably well."
What he thinks does matter, though, is that whoever the third halfback is, they get some game-time.
"That's a real benefit for the whole squad. And then it gives the coaches a chance to look at them under a bit of pressure and then see if this is the right one or do we try another one there too. Certainly that's the only way you're going to find out if your selections are going to be right."
Which brings us to the first five-eighth, where Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie and Richie Mo'unga will no doubt be the trio selected, but with some intrigue around when and where they all play.
For Loveridge, hot-to-trot Crusaders pivot Mo'unga has to be given an opportunity to show his wares, and build on his 10-minute test debut from Dunedin.
"I personally think that we need to see Mo'unga get a start and see how he controls the game, for whatever it may be, whether it's 50, 60 or 70 minutes," he said of the 24-year-old.
"They've got to get that depth and get Mo'unga to a stage where they've got no worries - well I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have too many worries now, but get him to build that confidence of being the starter, because you don't know what's round the corner, injuries happen every game.
"And keep pressure on the other players, too, I think that's one of the key things, anyone's position is not there to be taken for granted, they've got to have pressure on from players around them, and I think that brings out the best."
AT A GLANCE
2018 All Blacks Rugby Championship squad (as picked by six former All Blacks)
Read Stuff on Friday morning, when former All Blacks second five-eighth Walter Little selects his midfielders.