Saili could add to All Blacks attack, even if Nonu's Predator scare will be missed
James Mortimer 01 Sep 2013 Getty Images
Indeed, his menace on attack may have been surpassed with his belligerence without the ball, willing to stand and take anything a ball carrier might have to throw at him, and a feature of Nonu on defence now has been how quickly rival players are shifting possession away from the All Blacks contact zone, which often rushes the attacking side away from their preferred approach.
This does lead to an intimidator-like style which critics might lean towards suggesting skirts on the edge of the law, but there can be little doubt that Nonu ensures that the first lane of the centre’s defensive channel is closed.
If he is ruled out, then Francis Saili, a product of the New Zealand Rugby system, will become the newest member of an All Blacks centre’s club that demands plenty from all who would claim membership.
The St Peters College man brings numerous skills with him, an offensive portfolio that is already well developed for a 22-year-old.
The All Blacks selectors knew when they brought the 2011 IRB Junior World Cup winner into the fold they had an overly developed offensive unit whose skills had allowed him to dominate at Super Rugby level, noting his ability to run but more importantly his skill in distributing.
Whatever the primary role of a midfielder, their necessary skill in All Blacks colours is the ability to free the outside men.
However that attacking threat was not matched by his defensive prowess, and while far from a liability, the selectors did say that Saili was working hard on his defence, as frank an admission as any that it wasn’t up to the standard required by a Test side that had ruled rugby’s defence charts for many years.
Sooner or later Saili will have a chance, and then more, as the side looks to add depth to one of the thinner positions in a healthy selection landscape, but despite attacking prowess, will be asked to show his improvement in the tackle when examined by a Test quality attack.
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