This week we breakdown the performance of the contenders for the wing positions. This is traditionally a strength of the All Blacks, but some key injuries to the likes of Waisake Naholo, Nehe Milner-Skudder, and Seta Tamanivalu mean that some of the favourites haven’t seen a lot of action so far this season.
Let’s start with the left wing.
The good news here is that these guys have stayed largely injury-free and have seen a good bit of playing time. The bad news is that the player leading the pack, James Lowe, has decided to up sticks and head to Leinster. Unless the AB’s suffer a barrage of injuries, Hansen is unlikely to pick him for this reason.
George Bridge is a former NZ Under 20 rep and one for the future. Melani Nanai played under 20 rugby for Samoa but is now eligible for New Zealand. He has been in compelling form for the struggling Blues, particularly in the try assist department, but is unlikely to be a realistic All Blacks selection at this stage.
That leaves Julian Savea. You can see from the chart above and the table below that his form has hardly been scintillating, despite the benefit of playing in a Hurricanes team that leads the competition in points scored. He isn’t making clean breaks, beating defenders, or carving out the metres that he should be in that backline. But Savea would still be the safe pick for the All Blacks as the incumbent with 52 tests under his belt. While is attacking number don’t stand out it’s on the other side of the ball where he is performing well. His tackle percentage of 71% is acceptable (20 made, 8 missed), he has a low turnover rate and no penalties conceded.
Savea had a well documented down year last year but he does have the ability to step up on the big occasions for his country. You don’t score 45 tries in 52 tests by chance. He also loves scoring tries against England, who will dominate the Lions test team, having dotted down 8 times against them.
The right wingers have seen much more limited playing time than their left wing counterparts, but have performed better in their opportunities.
Leading the way is Waisake Naholo, who is first in assists, metres gained, defenders beaten, and clean breaks. The one blot in his copy book is a high turnover rate (7 in just 203 minutes of action). But providing he can stay injury free (a big concern given his history), he will walk in to the All Blacks right wing jersey for the Lions series.
Milner-Skudder, another injury-prone winger, has also performed well in just 134 minutes of action (a lot of which was from the full-back position). He is now in a race to be fit for the Lions series, and was probably competing with Damian McKenzie and Israel Dagg for the full back/wing cover position in the squad. He is a sublime talent, and hopefully he can shake his injury curse and get a sustained run at international rugby, but the Lions series looks to be coming too soon for him.
Vince Aso is someone who could appeal as a squad member covering wing and centre (where he has been splitting playing time). He is the leading try scorer right now in Super Rugby, and the former NZ under 20 rep will be looking to steal the centre/wing utility spot from the likes of Ryan Crotty and George Moala.
Rugby Boss Prediction for All Blacks vs Lions series:
Starting Left Wing: Julian Savea
Starting Right Wing: Waisake Naholo
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