Creating squad depth will be a key part of New Zealand’s Rugby Championship, campaign according to All Black legend Sean Fitzpatrick.
The All Blacks head into the 2019 edition of the competition with the last three titles in their corner and have only lost the tournament once since 2012.
Argentina vs New Zealand
July 20, 2019, 7:00pm
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Head coach Steve Hansen, alongside selectors Ian Foster and Grant Fox, has announced a 39-strong squad for their first two matches against Argentina and South Africa that has a blend of ‘youth’ and experience.
Within it are four uncapped players – Luke Jacobson, Josh Ioane and Braydon Ennor and Sevu Reece – with Reece starting for the All Blacks against Argentina on Saturday.
Fitzpatrick, the former All Black hooker who secured 92 caps for his country, believes Hansen will be content about his side’s current position.
“I think that Steve Hansen and his fellow selectors will be very happy. Most of the Super Rugby teams played very well and the All Blacks have been fed back in so they’re fresh and up to speed,” noted Fitzpatrick.
“I thought the Hurricanes versus the Crusaders in the Super Rugby semi-final was an outstanding match. The key thing for me was that the All Blacks all stood up and played really well… (TJ) Perenara and Ardie Savea, those sort of players that are so key to success at World Cups.
“That’s the key for the Rugby Championship to develop the depth, depth wins World Cups as we saw in 2015.”
Alongside a stranglehold on the Rugby Championship, New Zealand now have one on the sport’s pinnacle competition.
Back-to-back victories were secured in 2011 and 2015, something no side had ever done before, and now Hansen has his sights fixed on creating further history.
“We’re going to try and do something that’s never been done before and that’s to win three Rugby World Cups in a row. However, that’s not a given,” said the head coach.
“We’re going to have to be hungry for success and we’re going to have to work incredibly hard and smart to achieve this.”
In the face of Argentina and South Africa, strong fundamentals will be vital and amongst a squad that holds considerable experience, one lock will be of particular importance according to Fitzpatrick.
“If anything our second row is a little bit light. We have to world-class second rows but for me Sam Whitelock is our key player,” reflected the former All Black.
“With the way that he has played in Super Rugby but also for his leadership. He led the Crusaders superbly throughout the competition and he will be a player that I would not like to lose.”
Whitelock will make his 109th appearance for the All Blacks when he next takes to the park for them but at the other end of the spectrum is one of his Super Rugby team-mates, Reece.
The 22-year-old moved to New Zealand in 2014 and finished top of the regular season try-scoring charts with 13 tries. Fitzpatrick marks him as one to watch.