Stick or switch? All Blacks ponder changes for England rematch

Publish Date
Tuesday, 9 July 2024, 8:46AM

By Liam Napier

Pick and stick with Stephen Perofeta’s silky feet, or switch to embrace Beauden Barrett’s tactical kicking vision? Herein lies one of the most contestable selections of the All Blacks backline for the rematch with England at Eden Park.

In the biggest occasion of his career, in front of a sold-out, 29,000-strong crowd in Dunedin, Perofeta justified his surprise promotion to start at fullback over test centurion Barrett last week.

The Blues playmaker punished England at times when they kicked too long, and his effortless jink out of Ben Earl’s tackle to set up Ardie Savea’s try populated every highlight reel.

“It was a big test for me personally, physically and emotionally. Reflecting post-game, I’m able to say I put my best foot forward in the areas I could but there’s others I can fine-tune,” Perofeta said.

The 27-year-old waited the best part of three years for that starting chance, after featuring in a bit-part capacity for the All Blacks in 2022.

This was his chance to prove his worth. While he largely seized it, Barrett’s presence ensures a high degree of uncertainty surrounds Perofeta’s retention this weekend.

“In a way that’s how I treated it, that it could be my only chance and my last chance,” Perofeta said. “I wanted to make the most of it, express myself, enjoy, smile and be free.”

All Blacks assistant coach Jason Holland praised Perofeta’s attacking intent but hinted the selectors weren’t completely satisfied, which raises the prospect of Barrett’s injection this week.

“He’s got awesome feet,” Holland said. “When teams kick long to him, you do that at your peril. Stevie was really solid in his first test but, like all of us, there’s a couple of little bits we think we can get a little bit more control in our game between our nines, 10s and 15s.”

Barrett’s 29-minute cameo off the bench proved influential in turning the tide, with his kicking vision helping pin England at their end of the park and somewhat negate the suffocating defensive rush that had caused the All Blacks problems.

“We had it in our mind that Beauden could come at any stage at 10 or 15,” Holland said. “We thought when Beauden came on, it was a good time to get his experience and help us play at the right end of the field. I thought you saw that in the first couple of minutes he went on with a couple of touches, putting England in the corners.

“It’s great to have the three of them with Stevie, D-Mac and Beaudy.”

Damian McKenzie is expected to retain the first five-eighths duties – and the chance to learn from his timed-out penalty – but as a collective, the All Blacks are seeking improvement in consistent control, execution and decision-making from their game drivers.

“He was really solid,” Holland said of McKenzie. “We’ve looked at some of his work-rate clips in the back-field and under the high ball and that was awesome.

“With the group, with the backs, not necessarily just Damian, we’ve looked at little areas where we put ourselves under pressure. We either ran when it wasn’t on to run or kicked when it wasn’t on to kick. We’re working hard as a group to make sure we’re making good decisions there.”

Dropping Perofeta to the bench would be a harsh decision after he seamlessly combined with McKenzie in their first starting appearance as a playmaking combination – but it’s clear Barrett’s initial impression, following his six-month Japanese sabbatical, applied significant pressure for the starting fullback brief.

The decision to stick or switch in the back-field falls to All Blacks assistant Leon MacDonald, who is responsible for selecting the back three.

Other than TJ Perenara’s injury-enforced absence, Rieko Ioane’s spot at centre could come under scrutiny too in the quest for an improved attacking performance, with Anton Lienert-Brown an alternative option to partner Jordie Barrett.

As Holland noted: “Continuity is important but that doesn’t mean there’s not a couple of key areas where we need to improve.”

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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