Two Cents Rugby: Five players new All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson must back

Two Cents Rugby
Two Cents Rugby on who new All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson must back.

Two Cents Rugby on who new All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson must back.

With Scott Robertson having officially started his role as the new head coach of the All Blacks, who are five players he must back during the start of his tenure? Two Cents Rugby investigates.

Damian McKenzie

With Richie Mo’unga in Japan until 2026 and Beauden Barrett likewise off for a League One stint, depth in the 10 jersey is looking a bit thin.

There are youngsters who will put their hands up over the next Rugby World Cup cycle, but in the immediate future, McKenzie should get Razor’s backing.

He led the Chiefs with consistency during the Super Rugby season, but opportunities for the All Blacks were limited.

With his contract through until 2025, he will need to be given chances to keep him in New Zealand beyond that, but at 28 years old, he’s in the prime of his career. Surely, the time is now for DMac.

Cullen Grace

It seems like a long time since Grace made his three-minute appearance for the All Blacks against Australia. Since then, he has had a few dominant seasons in the Crusaders back-row, although injury disrupted his 2023 Super Rugby campaign.

Still only 23 years old, Grace has the potential to take his game back to Test level if given a chance by Robertson. With Ardie Savea on an overseas sabbatical for the 2024 Super season, the chance is there for Grace to shine.

His ability to cover lock might also increase his chances of selection and give him the edge over the likes of a Hoskins Sotutu.

When the Super Rugby squads are announced in a few days, we’ll hopefully find out how long he has signed with NZ Rugby. If he remains on the fringe of the All Blacks squad, you’d think it won’t be too long before he looks at more lucrative offers overseas.

Dalton Papali’i

With captain and tackling machine Sam Cane also on a sabbatical in Japan train, Blues man Papali’i has a chance at front running for the number seven jersey.

Similar to McKenzie, this is a good opportunity for him to get more Test minutes than what he had, largely from the bench, in 2023.

Cane will be back following the Super Rugby season, so the path is not entirely open for Papali’i. But, age-wise, he’s 26, compared to Cane at 31.

Looking at the longer-term picture, Razor should back Papali’i, who will be coming into the peak of his powers in 2027.

Tamaiti Williams

Perhaps an easy choice for Robertson, given they have worked together for several years at the Crusaders.

The prop is still only 23 years old and showed he’s more than ready for Test rugby when given a chance at the World Cup under Ian Foster.

He’s a big unit at 140kg and comfortable propping both sides of the scrum. He’s also a really useful ball carrier, which is sometimes surprising given his bulk.

Nepo Laulala leaving New Zealand will give even more opportunities at tighthead, which could well be where Razor backs him to slot in.

Cam Roigard

A favourite for many New Zealand fans for his attacking style, the half-back will be the favourite to fill Aaron Smith’s vacant number nine jersey.

A different style from Smith, Roigard will certainly be tasked with improving his distribution.

What comes most naturally to Roigard is his ability to break tackles and find gaps in the opposition line, and there are few who can do it as well as he can.

He’s only had five Tests so far and has already bagged four tries, including a bit of individual brilliance against South Africa at Twickenham in what was otherwise a tough day at the office for the All Blacks.

Kiwis will be hoping Robertson is able to find the best way to capitalise on this natural attacking talent.

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