Catching up on the All Blacks

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Missed New Zealand’s series against Wales? We've got you covered, with five key things to come out of the clean sweep.

1. Barrett the best 10?

Beauden Barrett is pushing for a regular starting spot. Photo: Getty ImagesBeauden Barrett - good footballer. He’s been in the wings behind Aaron Cruden in the pecking order but given the chance to start against Wales, the Hurricanes 10 proved he is every bit as effective running on as being a late impact player. He switched to fullback late in the third Test in a New Zealand reshuffle, but looks to have done enough to be given first crack in the opening Bledisloe in August. A 26-point tally in that final Test, including two tries, shows just how damaging he can be.

2. Dagg back from the doghouse

Israel Dagg is back to some of his best form. Photo: Getty ImagesIt’s hard to believe Israel Dagg was left out of the All Blacks’ World Cup squad last year. The fullback has returned to some of his best form and made the competition with Ben Smith for the All Blacks 15 jersey a really intense one. Dagg’s inclusion pushed Smith to the wing for portions of Tests, partly due to the latter’s versatility, but it’s creating an intriguing contest ahead of the Bledisloe.

3. Kieran Read carrying the torch

Kieran read is leading from the front. Photo: Getty ImagesAs far as shoes go, Richie McCaw’s would be quite difficult to fill. He’s had a taste of leadership before, but in his first series as permanent All Blacks captain after McCaw’s retirement, Read was exceptional. Dominant at the breakdown, the number eight managed to generate plenty of attack when the All Blacks were painted into a corner. Scored a try in the opening Test to kick his reign off in the best way.

4. Bench will be key

Liam Squire was one of the New Zealand bench players to make an impact. Photo: Getty ImagesThis is no revelation. While the conversation around the Wallabies centres around a question of depth, there is no such issue with New Zealand. The eight players that start on the bench for the All Blacks come on and make an impact. In the opening two Tests against Wales, the visitors were competitive or even in front late in the game, but New Zealand’s reinforcements finished them off. Michael Cheika was all about the finishers in last year’s World Cup and that battle will be one of the most pivotal come Bledisloe time. The positive for the Wallabies might be in the All Blacks’ slow starts against Wales, that could be more punishing in the hands of a more clinical team.

5. Don’t forget about Sonny Bill

Sonny Bill Williams will be back for the Rugby Championship. Photo: Getty ImagesThe centres could prove the most intriguing combination for the All Blacks in next month’s Bledisloe. Sonny Bill Williams will add to that after the Olympics, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen confirming the World Cup winner would return to the national squad straight after Rio. While the first Bledisloe seems unlikely, Williams could be in line for the second, in Wellington, and the remainder of the Rugby Championship. His looming return adds an interesting flavour to New Zealand’s midfield mix.