The coming season defines the careers of two of the best All Blacks of 2021

While it is true that most national teams begin preparations for a World Cup almost as soon as the champion is determined for the previous tournament, history has shown that what happens in the one, two and three years before the World Cup can sometimes have very little impact on the outcome of rugby’s flagship competition.

In 2017, the Springboks were in disarray. After two years at the helm of the team, Alister Coetzee had managed a 44% win rate and the South Africa Rugby Union wisely made the decision to bring in Rassie Erasmus, who managed to topple the team over the course of the next two seasons – but even that wasn’t instantaneous, and it really wasn’t until the 2019 World Cup that the Springboks really hit their peak.

So while the All Blacks haven’t exactly set the world on fire in 2021, despite having the highest winning percentage of any Tier 1 team, last year’s ‘bad results’ can very quickly be overwhelmed. converted into successes and while 2022 also doesn’t go as planned, that shouldn’t prevent New Zealand from winning a fourth World Cup title a year later.

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Damian McKenzie’s Tokyo Sungoliath got off to a good start in Ligue 1 last weekend.

While 2022 isn’t necessarily crucial for the All Blacks as a whole, it is shaping up to be a pivotal year for a number of key players in the team at large. The fact that over 40 players were used by Ian Foster last season means there will be a number of unlucky men missing out on the selection this year, and they may not be the ones many expect. .

Above all, some promising youngsters really stepped up when offered opportunities in the black jersey and the upcoming Super Rugby Pacific season looms as a potential springboard for them to announce that they should simply be seen as options. backup for All Black holders. .

On the other hand, there are men who will be under pressure to prove that 2021 was an echo on the radar, that they weren’t up to their usual standards due to the unusual nature of the season, as opposed to anything intrinsic.

The two players who probably advanced their case the best last season, despite having much more experienced men ahead in the pecking order, were hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho and flanker Dalton Papalii.

Taukei’aho wasn’t even named in the initial squad, but an early injury to Asafo Aumua saw the Chiefs hooker called up midway through the July series. When Dane Coles fell during the pre-match warm-up ahead of New Zealand’s second Test of the Year, Taukei’aho stepped into the bench role and was quickly impressed with his physique off the bench.

Taukaie’aho has managed only one start throughout the campaign – against Argentina in Brisbane – but he made eight appearances in the reserve, adding value with every late-game appearance. It wasn’t any more evident than in the All Blacks’ last game of the season against France, where the young rake was perhaps the best New Zealand player in the last quarter and the only man to never make. A step back.

Of course, there are two very experienced men ahead of Taukei’aho in crochet stocks, Codie Taylor and Dane Coles. The latter had limited opportunities in 2021, partly due to injury and partly because he had stayed in New Zealand during the rugby championship, while the former was somewhat in a bad mood during the season.

While Coles is still performing well and was arguably the All Blacks’ best hooker in 2020, it’s hard to envision a situation where the 35-year-old is the squad’s first-choice No. 2 at the World Cup. 2023, which means 2022 shapes like a straightforward battle between Taylor and Taukei’aho over who should be missing in the All Blacks’ starting lineup.

You’d be supporting Taylor to bounce back strongly with a more traditional season, hopefully, but Taukei’aho’s taste for test rugby only made him hungrier.

It’s a similar story in loose attackers, with Papalii getting an extended run on the openside flanker thanks to the absence of injured captain Sam Cane.

Cane is an exceptional player – let’s be clear from the start. The loose Chiefs forward is one of New Zealand’s most punishing defensemen, consistently exceeds tackles and is a leader of the highest caliber. When Cane is not in the park his team suffers – as was evident in the training stages of the 2019 World Cup semi-final loss to England. Unfortunately, many fans and critics have short memories and when Cane is not available it is often forgotten how great a player he is.

That being said, 2021 has been a coming-of-age season for Papalii, who has been one of the All Blacks’ strongest and most consistent players throughout their campaign. If the coaches had decided to put Ardie Savea back in the No.7 shirt, it could have been another partial-contribution season for Papalii, but instead he was given plenty of opportunities in his preferred role of openside flanker and s’ is blossomed with responsibilities.

However, Cane remains the incumbent, and while it’s not impossible that the three Savea, Papalii and Cane would be used in one loose trio, he likely wouldn’t quite have the balance that the breeders will seek.

It wouldn’t be fair to dismiss Papalii from the starting side after such an impressive run of performances last season just because Cane is back in action, but if everyone is in good shape Foster and co are going to have to take big. decisions – and it may well be that Super Rugby’s form dictates the selections.

In 2023, Papalii will be 26 years old and will have more than enough experience under his belt to help the All Blacks win a fourth World Cup title, provided he has the opportunity to move his case forward in the meantime. . Cane may be the captain, but will he still be the best man for the job in almost two years?

Ian Foster will look at the upcoming Super Rugby Pacific season with a lot of interest because after 2021 he and his fellow coaches will now be more aware of the All Blacks’ shortcomings and the men who traveled to Europe last season will have received a lot. of work for the coming season.

2022 is shaping up to be a definitive season. Maybe not for the All Blacks as a whole, but certainly for the individuals who make up the squad.

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