ROSS KARL: What to do with a short-handed All Blacks loose forward trio?

01/05/2017
There are plenty of quality options but three of the top four are specialist opensides - Sam Cane, Matt Todd and Ardie Savea are all world class sevens, with quite different approaches to the position. So how do we fit them in?

None of them are top quality lineout options like Read and Kaino, so I don't think all three should be starting together. That leaves Liam Squire to come in and start at eight or six. He is a superb athlete, the All Blacks love his potential in the lineout and around the field. He's abrasive on defence and a good ball carrier on attack. He has to be in. Alternatives, like Steven Luatua, don't combine athleticism and a hard-nosed approach like Squire.
So, who to go with him?

Sam Cane's the only one who brings long term test experience. He has to start. His leadership ability and role as the defensive king pin are vital. Turnovers now usually come from the second person at the breakdown, Cane's high dominant tackle percentage creates turnovers for the players with him.

Therefore, it's between Matt Todd and Ardie Savea to pick up the other jersey. I'd go with Todd because he's been superb starting at test level. His performance against Australia at Eden Park last year was a masterclass.

I can hear the hoard of you Canes fans groan but they'll need impact off the bench. Savea is best for that. The All Blacks coaches said last year that Savea hadn't developed to the point where they saw him as a starting test openside, so went with Todd. It worked. I'm sticking with that. Lock Scott Barrett has the ability to provide more loose forward cover off the bench.

So here's my preferred starting option, if Read and Kaino don't return. A big defender, a fetcher and a big ball carrier/lineout option.

6. Sam Cane

7. Matt Todd

8. Liam Squire

Of course, this would make Savea's big army of supporters happy.

6. Sam Cane

7. Ardie Savea

8. Liam Squire

If you sacrifice the lineout, there's this one.

6. Sam Cane

7. Matt Todd

8. Ardie Savea

And just for a laugh, if the All Blacks are up two nil before the final test and want to run the Lions around ...

6. Liam Squire

7. Ardie Savea

8. Steven Luatua

Of course, there are a number of players who could do a job, so let's give them some kudos.

Liam Messam - his experience and skill wouldn't let them down.

Luke Whitelock - Solid campaigner, whose physical presence would go well against the Lions.

Brad Shields - Abrasive and passionate.

Akira Ioane - Talented and could be great off the bench. However, he's inconsistent and often makes bad decisions.

Ross Karl is the Newshub rugby reporter.