Rugby World Cup
The Jordie and Brodie show
Canon Focus on Rugby: Jim Kayes reports on the latest twist in All Black first five selections - and the return as widely expected of key forward Brodie Retallick
Steve Hansen’s in a luxurious position.
Such are the respective qualities of the All Blacks and Namibia he’s able to rest his captain, Kieran Read, and star playmakers Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett for Sunday’s game against the Africans at Tokyo Stadium.
Such is the yawning gulf between a team that’s on a 16 game winning streak at World Cups and one that has lost all 21 of their World Cup matches he can play Jordie Barrett completely out of position at first five.
"Jordie can play multiple positions in the backline and we're confident that he'll handle the responsibility well,” Hansen says.
“He has all the skill sets required and we're looking forward to seeing him play there.”
Barrett is a versatile player and he may have a wonderful set of skills, but he’s not a test first five.
In fact, he’s not a Super Rugby first five, or even a Mitre 10 Cup one.
But this is Namibia and Barrett will be sitting behind a rampant All Blacks pack, boosted by the earlier than expected return of Brodie Retallick.
He will get the ball early and in space from Aaron Smith’s bullet pass and if, by chance, Namibia can exert some pressure on him, he has the in-form Anton Lienert-Brown outside him.
This might be calculated by Hansen but it’s hardly a gamble. Barrett will be fine.
He will be like Marc Ellis was when he was shifted to pivot against Scotland in 1993 - a match the All Blacks won 51-15.
A week later that experiment didn’t work so well when the All Blacks lost to England, 9-15.
Ellis never played first five in a test match again and this, too, is likely to be a one-off for Barrett.
It’s a move we all knew was coming and it’s sensible as it gives Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett a rest before they play what Hansen hopes will be four big tests - Italy, then three playoff games.
The same applies for Read who will watch Ardie Savea start at No 8 and Shannon Frizell pack down at blindside in one of the great “good luck” stories of the tournament.
Frizell wouldn’t be in Japan if not for Liam Squire’s unavailability and then Luke Jacobson’s concussion issues.
But he’s played well, taken his chances and now gets to push his case again to be considered for the bench in the big tests to come.
Retallick’s return will be keenly watched by all who are interested in the World Cup - and especially the coaches of Wales, England, Ireland, Australia and South Africa.
World Rugby’s player of the year in 2014, Retallick is widely regarded as one of the best locks in the game alongside Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones and, in my opinion, Sam Whitelock.
He is big and bruising on attack, defensively and around the rucks, but he’s more than a bulldozer’s blade.
When the All Blacks played Argentina on a cold, wet, rainy night in Napier in 2014, Retallick collected a poor pass that was aimed at his ankles and, without slowing down, drew a defender and threw a long cut out pass for Julian Savea to score in the corner.
So he’s a big, often angry dump-truck with the skills of a ballerina. And one who hasn’t played since he dislocated his shoulder against South Africa on July 27 so he will be fizzing to rejoin the fray.
That really doesn’t bode well for Namibia.
Neither does the fact the All Blacks know this is a dress rehearsal for the bigger games to come.
Add Read, Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett and Dane Coles to this starting XV and it’s the team I expect to run out against Italy.
A few days ago Hansen was asked about the coaching merits of Japan’s Jamie Joseph and whether the former All Blacks loose forward has what it takes to coach his old team.
The question was prompted by Japan’s win against Ireland. Hansen said Joseph was a good coach and then provided a bit of perspective.
“I always find it amusing, you beat someone and all of a sudden you're a super coach,” Hansen said. “I hold the world record for the most losses in a row and the world record for the most wins in a row so what sort of coach am I?”
He’s obviously an exceptional coach just as the All Blacks are a fantastic team.
That didn’t happen overnight and, equally, Namibia won’t suddenly become a decent team in the next few days.
This will be another lopsided pool game even with three of the All Blacks' best players watching from the grandstand and a make-shift playmaker at first five.
Such is Hansen’s luxurious position.
The full team named today (with number of tests played) is:
1. Joe Moody (42)
2. Codie Taylor (47)
3. Nepo Laulala (22)
4. Brodie Retallick (77)
5. Samuel Whitelock - captain (114)
6. Shannon Frizell (7)
7. Sam Cane (64)
8. Ardie Savea (41)
9. Aaron Smith (88)
10. Jordie Barrett (13)
11. George Bridge (6)
12. Anton Lienert-Brown (39)
13. Jack Goodhue (10)
14. Sevu Reece (4)
15. Ben Smith (82)
16. Dane Coles (65)
17. Ofa Tuungafasi (32)
18. Angus Ta'avao (10)
19. Patrick Tuipulotu (27)
20. Matt Todd (22)
21. Brad Weber (3)
22. T J Perenara (61)
23. Rieko Ioane (27)