Jim Kayes

Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post,, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport.  He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.

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Jim Kayes: Young guns pushing for places

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Jim Kayes     10 Sep 2017     Getty Images

So good was Vaea Fifita in his match turning performance against Argentina that it had all the hallmarks of a young Jerome Kaino.

And Nehe Milner-Skudder’s return to the Test arena (his first since the World Cup final) added another to the group of outstanding young wings at Steve Hansen’s disposal.
Milner-Skudder was World Rugby’s breakthrough player of 2015 and he showed why in New Plymouth, quickly back into his stride with 12 carries for 75 metres and the opening try of the match, his ninth in as many Tests.

He is an exceptional player and there is now so much competition for the back three it almost beggars belief with Rieko Ioane not needed in New Plymouth and Waisake Naholo out with concussion.

Remember Ben Smith is now on his sabbatical and there is a decent old logjam of talent for Hansen to utilise as he now builds toward the 2019 World Cup.

There is a path back for Julian Savea, Israel Dagg showed that when he had a horrible 2015, missed the World Cup squad, then got injured but has returned to be a key part of an otherwise reasonably young and inexperienced backline.

At 27 Savea is hardly old but he has a lot of ground to make up against the young turks.

It’s the same for Jerome Kaino. He has won two World Cups and should be remembered as one of the best to have worn the black number six jersey through his 81 Tests. A terrific defender, he also had a turn of pace that belied his considerable size. Kaino was a player others feared.

He, like Savea, could play for the All Blacks again but he too has a fight on his hands with Fifita and Liam Squire impressing in their Tests against Argentina and Australia.

Both are big defenders with good work rates and strength at the breakdown, but what sets them apart is their pace, something the 34-year-old Kaino knows isn’t a key part of his game anymore.

Squire showed that speed in his try against the Wallabies in Sydney. Fifita showed it in New Plymouth with a quite stunning try in the corner to spark the All Blacks’ come back.

It was only his second test and he is still a raw talent, but consider what Hansen said about him before the Pumas match, when he suggested the 1.96m tall Fifita was one of the best athletes he’d encountered.

Hansen was hoping to see that athleticism combined with the core duties of a six at Yarrow Stadium and will have left the ground happy that the 25-year-old delivered.

Fifita’s try was the catalyst for the All Blacks revival after they had trailed the Pumas 15-16 at the break, following a rather muddled first half.
While the All Blacks are unbeaten in the Rugby Championship they are yet to produce a convincing 80-minute performance.

They were superb for about 50 minutes in Sydney before letting the Wallabies back in, and were poor in the opening quarter in Dunedin before rallying to eventually win the seesaw test match.

And they were only convincing in patches against the Pumas.

They dominated possession (60%), made 11 clean breaks as they carried the ball for 607 metres compared to Argentina's 213, and made 13 off loads to the Pumas’ four. Yet somehow they struggled to shake the Pumas till late in the match.

It will concern Hansen, but also give him something to work on as the All Blacks prepare for the Springboks in Albany this week.

That match will probably see return of Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty to the starting fifteen but what most All Blacks fans will be waiting to see is who starts at six and on the wings. 

We may have seen a changing of the guard.