073. Shagalicious Selections

The New Zealand and England teams have been named for the first semi-final on Saturday.

New Zealand

1. Joe Moody (44 tests)
2. Codie Taylor (49)
3. Nepo Laulala (24)
4. Brodie Retallick (79)
5. Samuel Whitelock (116)
6. Scott Barrett (34)
7. Ardie Savea (43)
8. Kieran Read – captain (125)
9. Aaron Smith (90)
10. Richie Mo’unga (15)
11. George Bridge (8)
12. Anton Lienert-Brown (41)
13. Jack Goodhue (12)
14. Sevu Reece (6)
15. Beauden Barrett (81)

16. Dane Coles (67)
17. Ofa Tuungafasi (34)
18. Angus Ta’avao (12)
19. Patrick Tuipulotu (28)
20. Sam Cane (66)
21. T J Perenara (63)
22. Sonny Bill Williams (56)
23. Jordie Barrett (15)

 

England

1 Mako Vunipola (56)

2 Jamie George (43)

3 Kyle Sinckler (29)

4 Maro Itoje (32)

5 Courtney Lawes(79)

6 Tom Curry (17)

7 Sam Underhill (13)

8 Billy Vunipola (49)

9 Ben Youngs (93)

10 George Ford (63)

11 Jonny May (50)

12 Owen Farrell (77)

13 Manu Tuilagi (38)

14 Anthony Watson (40)

15 Elliot Daly (37)

 

16 Luke Cowan-Dickie (19)

17 Joe Marler (66)

18 Dan Cole (93)

19 George Kruis (39)

20 Mark Wilson (16)

21 Willi Heinz (8)

22 Henry Slade (25)

23 Jonathan Joseph (45)

 

The talking points for each side write themselves:

  • for the All Blacks, it’s the loose forwards: Matt Todd not considered due to injury, Ardie Savea starts at 7, Scott Barrett starts at 6, and Sam Cane on the bench.
  • for England, it’s George Ford returns at first-five and Owen Farrell slips out to second-five.

The All Black selection doesn’t surprise me, if only because that was the rumour circulating on Twitter last night. And when you stop to think about it, it’s another stroke of Shag genius.

Matt Todd’s injury means he’s not an option, but even if he were available, I suspect this would have been the choice. Having Scott Barrett on the field from the first whistle gives you extra heft in defence for the critical opening stanza when England will throw everything at the black wall. But he also gives an extra edge in the close channels for attacks, with beautiful short offloading skills.

Meanwhile, Ardie Savea’s engine goes for 120 minutes, and starting him at 7 says, I suspect, that his mission will be to pinch at the breakdown (or force penalties trying).  If you look at the tapes from the previous matches, they haven’t done much pinching, deliberately.  They’ve been willing to let the opposition have the ball, and cough it up in a tackle, or just kick it to us on a plate. (It’s also a useful way to not give away penalties.)  But I reckon pinching will be one of the few change-ups in our pattern for this match.

After 50 or 60 minutes of that, bring on Sam Cane with fresh legs, and Ardie goes back to 6.  You’ve then got the option of taking Scott Barrett off at that point, or keeping him on and switching him to lock. (Although probably not: just throw Patrick into the mixer if Brodie needs a rest.)

And the balance is there if there’s an injury (or yellow card) early on.  In fact, it’s the balance I like most about this selection.  It gives Shag lots of options from the coaches’ box to shape the game, rather than just replacing like for like.

So, watch for Ardie to go pinching, and Scott to go smashing, from the opening blower.

For England, I reckon the inclusion of Ford at first-five is a retrograde move by Eddie Jones. He’s responding to what he’s seen from the All Blacks, and because he doesn’t really have many options, he’s gone for an extra kicker.  Because that’s what Ford does: he kicks, and when he gets a chance, he kicks some more, and if he’s feeling really enthusiastic, he’ll kick even more.  (Don’t count those tries from earlier: proverbial dead granny territory.)

I’d expect England to split Ford and Farrell either side of the breakdown, as if that somehow splits the All Blacks’ defence or puts them in two minds as to which one of them will kick.

Yawn.

The interesting thing is what happens if one team jumps out to an 8 or 15 point lead by the end of the third quarter.

We know what the All Blacks will do if they’re behind: they’ll run everything from everywhere.

The only question for England is whether they can.

 

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