The job of selecting the perfect outside backs combination for Steve Hansen intensified this weekend, with some star players turning in high-quality performances throughout the weekend’s ITM Cup action.
With only thirty-one places to take to the Northern Hemisphere in next month’s World Cup, an essential element for All Blacks coach Hansen will be to find the right balance between forwards and backs. Part of this will include choosing outside backs that will better the All Blacks’ chances of retaining the Webb Ellis Cup.
Leading up to the weekend’s action, debates had already started about who would fill the wing and full-back positions.
Some pundits were rating Nehe Milner-Skudder’s turnouts against the Wallabies as an almost nail-in-the-coffin for incumbent fullback Israel Dagg.
But an excellent game for Dagg, which included a hat-trick of tries, has firmly put Dagg back into the frame for the team that will be announced this Sunday.
Another player who, thanks to the form of others, was seemingly on the outside, was Wellington Lions back Corey Jane.
Jane was a solid contributor playing at full back for the Lions in their 43-to-nil romp over an ineffective Harbour team.
While not scoring, Jane was instrumental in setting up tries for Shaun Treeby, Joe Hill and Vaea Fifita, with touches of brilliance, and was very influential in leading the team around the park with excellent tactical kicking.
Charles Piutau also did his claim for a ticket to England no harm with his contribution in Auckland’s win over reigning champs Taranaki at Eden Park yesterday.
Piutau, who played well in all three of his All Black caps this year, would have been feeling the pressure of Milner-Skudder breathing down his neck in recent weeks.
The consistent Auckland back was in sublime form yesterday at full-back, playing with plenty of energy, running hard and defending ferociously in the win. He was also instrumental in setting up Joe Edwards for what should have been a near length of the field try.
For sure, the number of sleepless nights heading the All Black selector’s way this week as they figure out the right combination to ensure victory in the game’s greatest stage.