Rugby's burning questions: Should Fifita start, and what do with Barrett? video


"When Barrett kicks well, he kicks everything": Steve Hansen

Put a circle around this one: All Blacks v Springboks, Albany, on Saturday night. There's a fair bit to get your teeth into with this one. Stuff rugby writers Richard Knowler, Hamish Bidwell and Tony Smith offer their solutions to five topical questions.

1 Assuming Jerome Kaino won't play the Springboks, a scenario that seems highly likely, should Liam Squire or Vaea Fifita start at No 6 against the Pumas?

RICHARD KNOWLER: Squire. Good luck to Fifita, we will see plenty more of him down the track but don't risk exposing him against the Springboks. Squire's got more experience (10 tests), should add value as a lineout option and will suit a tighter game plan.  

Beauden Barrett missed three conversions in the All Blacks' 37-22 victory over Argentina in New Plymouth last weekend.

Beauden Barrett missed three conversions in the All Blacks' 37-22 victory over Argentina in New Plymouth last weekend.

HAMISH BIDWELL: Squire. Fifita has more upside and could be an outstanding player in time. But, as Steve Hansen said the other day, there's more to being an international flanker than waiting out on the wing for the ball. Rightly or wrongly, the coaches will regard Squire as a safer, harder-working option.

TONY SMITH: Fifita is a special athlete and the rugby public revere ball-running blindsides, but Squire should start against the Boks. He's no slouch with the ball in hand and is an abrasive character, who'd help Read and Cane with the breakdown donkey work. Fifita appeals as an impact man off the bench and, because he can cover lock, would allow Steve Hansen to carry two loose forward reserves. 

2 Beauden Barrett's goal kicking percentages are all over the place. Up one week, down the next. Should coach Steve Hansen bite the bullet and give the job to Damian McKenzie or start Lima Sopoaga at No 10 and shift Barrett to fullback?

Blindside flanker Vaea Fifita scored a memorable try during the victory over Argentina in New Plymouth last weekend.

Blindside flanker Vaea Fifita scored a memorable try during the victory over Argentina in New Plymouth last weekend.

​RICHARD KNOWLER: Stick with Barrett at No 10. In regards to the goal kicking issue, tell him he has got the job on the proviso he succeeds. If he gets the wobbles, captain Kieran Read should have the authority to take the tee off him. Leaving points out on the park against the Springboks is not on. 

​HAMISH BIDWELL: Absolutely not. Barrett is potentially your best player; you don't do things to undermine his confidence. If his kicking starts costing games by the handful then, sure, have a look at someone else. But, as with the Hurricanes, penalty kicking is a minimal part of the All Blacks' arsenal. They've set their stall on beating you with tries.

TONY SMITH: Barrett has to start - and preferably at No 10, but Damian McKenzie should be the first-choice kicker. You could have put your over-inflated Auckland townhouse on men like Grant Fox, Andrew Mehrtens and Carter to win tests with the boot, but even the bravest property investor wouldn't take that punt on Barrett. Kieran Read should have bitten the bullet last week and turned to McKenzie after Barrett's second miss.

3 What about the idea of dropping Sonny Bill Williams to the bench to allow Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown a run in the midfield: would the All Blacks benefit more by bringing SBW on as impact player in the final 30 minutes?

Ad Feedback

RICHARD KNOWLER: Keep Williams at No 12. It pays to have a powerful ball carrier in the midfield, especially when you consider the smaller Ryan Crotty is likely start at No 13. A change in game plan from the test against Argentina, allowing Williams to be more direct on attack, is likely. It's then up to him to wise-up in terms of accuracy.

HAMISH BIDWELL: I'd persevere with him for another game or two. Maybe Barrett's to blame, but Williams looks a passenger at the moment. He's sluggish and having minimal impact with his carries and doesn't have the hands to shift the ball quickly, which seems the primary tactic to combat linespeed. They need to find a way to get more out of him.

TONY SMITH: Williams started his All Black life as an impact player - remember the way he tore the Wallabies to shreds in the second half of the 2015 Rugby World Cup final. But it would be good to see him get another run with Crotty to restore his confidence after some ordinary efforts in the Rugby Championship. Lienert-Brown hasn't done enough yet to guarantee a place and Ngani Laumape will get his shot on the end of the year tour.

4 Do you like the idea of the All Blacks playing the Springboks at QBE Stadium in North Harbour? 

RICHARD KNOWLER: No. It's hardly a fortress is it? The Springboks must have been stoked when they learned they didn't have to play at Eden Park. All those South African ex-pats on the North Shore won't have to travel far to support their team, either.


TONY SMITH: Playing at Albany has its pluses - for South African fans. They won't have far to go from their adopted bastions of Birkenhead and Glenfield. But it's a sad day when an All Blacks-Springboks test - once world rugby's pinnacle event is played at a 25,000 stadium. Forgive my now habitual descent into the realm of nostalgia - but 62,000 packed the stands -and the trees - for the fourth test at Eden Park in 1956.

5 Pick a score, thanks. 

​RICHARD KNOWLER: All Blacks 28 South Africa 26. 

HAMISH BIDWELL: Same as last week. 39-22 to NZ.

TONY SMITH: All Blacks by 13-plus. The Boks are better than last year but their backfield defence is still porous.

 - Stuff


Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback