The midfield is probably the most contentious and unsettled position in the All Blacks right now. Nobody is the clear incumbent in either the number 12 or 13 jersey, with Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, and George Moala all getting substantial game time on the November tour. Fekitoa was the form horse in 2016 Super Rugby, but couldn’t replicate that at test level. Lienert-Brown emerged as the find of the season and heavily featured in the All Blacks run on 15 by seasons end. Crotty and Moala never seem to put a foot wrong when given opportunities at test level.
But one curveball added to the mix is the fact that a certain Sonny Bill Williams is back in All Blacks contention. Will SBW get picked? Well on form he shouldn’t, but that’s never stopped the All Blacks selectors picking him before, has it?
Looking at the season stats so far there are two midfielders that stand out, Ngani Laumape and Rieko Ioane. These guys are carving out the metres, making the breaks, and scoring and setting up the tries. Hansen won’t gamble on them to take on the Lions, but imagine that as a combination?! The raw power of Laumape at second five, with the silky footwork of Ioane outside him. It’s a tantalising combination, and one we may see later in the year.
Behind Laumape and Ioane you can throw a blanket over the next 5 guys in terms of performance, with Jack Goodhue, Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Ryan Crotty, and Anton Lienert-Brown all averaging around 11 fantasy points/80 minutes of action. Lienert-Brown is the biggest worry, he’s hardly setting the world on fire and is last on this list in terms of metres gained, defenders beaten, and clean breaks.
And then there’s Sonny Bill Williams. Granted, he’s only played 186 minutes but he’s accrued a paltry 2.5 fantasy points/80 minutes. The most alarming stat is his 50% tackle success of 7 made, 7 missed. All the other contenders are over 80% for tackle percentage. Does SBW deserve to be called up based on his current form – no. Would it surprise if he was – absolutely not.
Rugby Boss Prediction for All Blacks versus Lions series:
I think for a series of this magnitude the All Blacks will go with the tried and true and largely ignore Super Rugby form. Fekitoa, Lienert-Brown, and Crotty are the closest thing to incumbents and will make up the game day squad. SBW will be kept in the mix of the wider squad.
Starting Centre: Malakai Fekitoa
Starting Second Five: Anton Lienert-Brown
Reserves bench: Ryan Crotty
Wider squad member: Sonny Bill Williams (we would have George Moala in here, but think they’ll go with SBW)
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