All Blacks lack Kaino-like presence
June 21, 2013
Jerome Kaino offered an intimidating presence in the All Blacks' backrow © Getty Images
The All Blacks have missed a certain edge in the contact area since the departure of Jerome Kaino, with opponents more easily muscling up to disrupt their rhythm, as did France in the first Gallaher Cup Test at Eden Park. Turnovers were also a problem in Auckland, with France breakaway Thierry Dusautoir constantly a nuisance at the breakdown and claiming poorly protected possession.
Liam Messam and Victor Vito have each spent time in the No 6 jersey in the 16 Tests since Kaino headed for Japan, with neither able to claim a permanent stay. Both posses the athleticism and skills required to perform the basic tasks of the role, but All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wants a dominant figure patrolling the breakdown and mauls.
"You want a ball carrier and you want physicality in defence, that's what we're looking for," Hansen said. "There's a lot of sixes in the game that don't do that. It's a bonus if they can. It's a bonus if anyone can intimidate someone in the game of rugby."
Vito has made just five starting appearances in three years, spending much of his Test time behind Messam, who also came to prominence as a big man in the seven-man game. But Vito has rethought his approach and plans to state his claim when he runs out for the third Test in New Plymouth.
"[Messam] is leading the way there for the Chiefs as well and then coming into the All Blacks frame he has been doing a great job of it," Vito said. "Getting this opportunity I'm really going to have to take it with both hands. If anything, the French have been good at slowing down our ball. When we're on attack just making sure that if I see any blue jumpers around me just make sure they're not there anymore."
France have made three changes to the pack that failed to break the All 'Blacks defence in Christchurch, hence they have fresh legs ready to attack around the fringes, but Vito and his team-mates want to make another defensive statement. Hansen said: "I want eight forwards intimidating the opposition; it's not about one guy doing it. There are occasions where you can intimidate legally; that's at the breakdowns and the tackle and when you carry. But you can't just have one of those people, you need eight."
Uncapped Blues flanker Steven Luatua has joined the blindside mix but, just as Kaino did, he will need time to develop a bruising element to his game.
As Scotland decides its future, Scrum Sevens looks at a group of players who transcended rugby both for country and the British & Irish Lions
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup