- Publish Date
- Thursday, 14 September 2023, 7:43AM
By Liam Napier
Cam Roigard has been handed a chance to stake his World Cup claim and possibly alter the All Blacks halfback pecking order.
For the All Blacks second World Cup pool match against Namibia this weekend Ian Foster has seized possibly the only opportunity to rotate his squad en masse after making nine starting changes and one positional switch in the midfield following the opening defeat to France.
“We need to rebound from round one but that’s okay,” Foster said. “It’s a key game for us to get right and we’ve selected accordingly.”
Among the widespread changes, Roigard’s promotion for his maiden test start inside Damian McKenzie stands out. Of all the opportunities afforded to fringe prospects, Roigard’s path to first-choice team is within reach.
And with All Blacks centurion Aaron Smith departing to Japan next year, this week could mark the first true peak into the near long-term future at halfback for New Zealand.
For the present moment, though, Roigard must first grasp this chance.
When everyone is fit and available, the All Blacks are settled on their first-choice starting side that will return for the sudden death showdown with Italy – and likely be retained for their final pool match against Uruguay.
Spots on the bench, though, remain highly contestable after a lack of impact was widely evident during the All Blacks final quarter fade against France.
After forcing his way into the World Cup squad through a series of compelling performances, Hurricanes halfback Roigard continues to push his case. His comparative size, running threat and booming left boot are enticing points of difference to Smith that cannot be ignored.
Roigard’s composure, strength, accuracy and vision came to the fore in his two test cameos off the bench – the latter occasion in the record defeat to the Springboks at Twickenham behind an inexperienced and beaten All Blacks forward pack.
While Namibia are expected to be something of a training exercise, and individual performances will therefore require context, All Blacks coach Ian Foster acknowledged Roigard’s first test start presents the chance to further pressure Finlay Christie for Smith’s deputy role for the remainder of the World Cup.
“There’s good competition there,” Foster said after the All Blacks travelled from Lyon to Toulouse. “It’s an exciting time for Cam. The times he’s come off the bench this year he’s done a really good job and he’s learning all the time.
“It’s a very real opportunity for him. I know he’ll be proud to start, and to start at a World Cup will be pretty special. I can’t wait to see him go out there. I’m sure there’ll be a few nerves early on but he’s a quality player and he’s impressed us so I’d love to see him transfer that on the park.”
The All Blacks altering their halfback perking order at World Cups is not without precedent after Tawera Kerr-Barlow usurped TJ Perenara to deputise Smith during the 2015 success on foreign soil.
Blues halfback Christie brings a strong competitive and defensive presence but, from an impact perspective, there is no comparison with Roigard.
Ardie Savea, again assuming the captaincy from the injured Sam Cane, described Hurricanes team-mate Roigard as a quiet assassin who speaks through actions.
“Deep down he’s a competitor and he doesn’t like losing,” Savea said. “Aaron was in the gym this week and he was pumping good bench press weights and I saw Cam out the corner of my eye watching him.”
Roigard has never been overawed since joining the All Blacks and he clearly senses the opportunity to make his move.
“It’s been surreal since being named in the squad hoping this moment would eventuate. For it to be just around the corner is exciting,” Roigard said. “I’ve always been competitive, always trying to chase the people in my position right from Super Rugby to where I am now. That’s a big part of my development and the ability to be myself.”
The other intriguing element to the squad for Namibia is that nine incumbent starters – Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Savea, Beauden Barrett, Ethan de Groot, Scott Barrett, Smith, Richie Mo’unga and Rieko Ioane – could now feature in every World Cup match for the All Blacks.
Rotation is commonplace during the pool stages for World Cup heavyweights but with starting forwards Shannon Frizell, Tyrel Lomax, Cane and second five-eighth Barrett absent through injury, the All Blacks are restricted in some areas, particularly the loose forwards where they have three fit specialists.
Beauden Barrett’s retention at fullback, with Will Jordan left out of this week’s squad, is somewhat surprising amid mass changes. It may suggest the All Blacks want Barrett to lead the counterattack from the backfield alongside power wings Caleb Clarke and Leicester Fainga’anuku after Foster criticised the lack of ambition during the final quarter against France.
Foster made special mention of Whitelock as he equals Richie McCaw’s 148 tests for the All Blacks. Unless injury strikes, Whitelock will claim the record outright and surpass the 150 mark in the coming weeks.
“It’s a massive occasion for Sam and us as a team,” Foster said. “He’s been a warrior for this team for a long time. To equal someone like Richie for test matches for the All Blacks is a massive achievement. We all know how much it means to him to put on a black jersey. To do it for the 148th time is a very special occasion. We want to make sure we put on a performance that gives that record a lot of respect and then celebrate it with him afterwards.”
Namibia has changed six - one positional - after losing to Italy 52-8 in Saint-Etienne on Saturday.
Prop Jason Benade, lock Johan Coetzee, flanker Prince Gaoseb, inside back Le Roux Malan and fullback Cliven Loubser have come in, and Divan Rossouw has switched from fullback to the wing.
Eight of the matchday 23 played in the 71-9 loss to New Zealand at the 2019 World Cup in Tokyo.
All Blacks match day 23 (Test caps in brackets)
1. Ofa Tu’ungafasi (54)
2. Samisoni Taukei’aho (26)
3. Nepo Laulala (50)
4. Brodie Retallick (104)
5. Samuel Whitelock (147)
6. Luke Jacobson (16)
7. Dalton Papali’i (27)
8. Ardie Savea (c) (76)
9. Cam Roigard (2)
10. Damian McKenzie (42)
11. Leicester Fainga’anuku (4)
12. David Havili (26)
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (64)
14. Caleb Clarke (18)
15. Beauden Barrett (117)
16. Dane Coles (87)
17. Ethan de Groot (18)
18. Fletcher Newell (9)
19. Scott Barrett (63)
20. Tupou Vaa’i (23)
21. Aaron Smith (120)
22. Richie Mo’unga (50)
23. Rieko Ioane (64)
15. Cliven Loubser, 14. Gerswin Mouton, 13. Johan Deysel (captain), 12. Le Roux Malan, 11. Divan Rossouw, 10. Tiaan Swanepoel, 9. Damian Stevens, 8. Richard Hardwick, 7. Prince Gaoseb, 6. Wian Conradie, 5. Tjiuee Uanivi, 4. Johan Retief, 3. Johan Coetzee, 2. Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1. Jason Benade. Reserves: 16. Louis van der Westhuizen, 17. Desiderius Sethie, 18. Haitembu Shifuka, 19. PJ van Lill, 20. Adriaan Booysen, 21. Max Katjijeko, 22. Jacques Theron, 23. JC Greyling.
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission
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