With the Bledisloe Cup secured for the 20th successive year, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster should be bold and pick Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at inside centre for Saturday’s Test against the Wallabies at Eden Park.
That’s the word from All Blacks legends Sir John Kirwan, Jeff Wilson and Mils Muliaina, who believe it’s the right time to give the code hopper his first Test start for New Zealand.
With David Havili and Quinn Tupaea ruled out with concussion and knee injuries sustained in last Thursday’s Rugby Championship Test against the Wallabies, Tuivasa-Sheck could be handed the number 12 jersey for the rematch against their cross-Tasman rivals.
Jordie Barrett also an option at 12
However, Foster could shift full-back Jordie Barrett to inside centre – where he has played most of the year for the Hurricanes – but Kirwan, Muliaina and Wilson believe it’s the perfect opportunity to give Tuivasa-Sheck his chance to prove himself at Test level.
“I don’t think he will start Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at No 12 … [but] I would like to see that,” Kirwan said on The Breakdown on Sunday.
“Just throw him in at the deep end. We’ve got the cup in the cupboard, the Bledisloe Cup.
“We want to win the [Rugby] Championship but if you’re thinking about World Cup, I’d like to see Roger Tuivasa-Sheck have a start.
“I think the biggest decision is what you do with Jordie Barrett, because then you change a whole backline…Will [Jordan] the fullback, what are you going to do on the wing?
“I think there are a couple of structural things in defence that we need to look at as well. Our outside-in defence has let us down across the Championship.
“But we’ve got the cup, play Roger.”
Although he was included in the All Blacks‘ squads for the three-match series against Ireland, as well as the Rugby Championship, Tuivasa-Sheck’s only Test appearance was a 10-minute stint off the bench during the final stages of the third clash against the Irish in Wellington in July.
The 29-year-old has spent most of his recent time playing for Auckland in the NPC but Muliaina believes Foster can promote him to the All Blacks run-on side now that they have won the Bledisloe Cup again.
“I think that’s the key thing, I think it gives him [Foster] the comfort now we’ve won the cup,” Muliaina said.
“Often people will say, ‘Don’t mix things up’ but I think we need to do that. I think he’s been wanting to do that for a long time, get guys out on the field and get them to experience test match footy.
“I still think we’ve got the players to be able to go out there and win and win well.”
Wilson admitted that he was also concerned about the All Blacks’ defensive issues but feels Tuivasa-Sheck’s elevation to the run-on side at inside centre would offer the least amount of disruption to the backline.
“I think Roger Tuivasa-Sheck needs to play in this Test match,” Wilson said.
“I’ve got concerns. We’re getting found out in regards to what’s happening on the outside, the links between our midfield and our outsides.
“There’s not enough talk for me that’s enabling guys to shift and guys are getting in some really bad angles.
Still some issues to be worked on
“Will Jordan got found out, Caleb Clarke…bad angles because I don’t think there was enough communication, telling them where they needed to go. They were gambling.
“I honestly don’t have a problem, the more I’ve thought about him [Tuivasa-Sheck] starting at 12 in this test match because then we haven’t made any other changes.
“It’s just the one. The only thing is you’ve got to find some more distribution and a kicking game, which David Havili was adding.“