The most qualified and fit player to wear the All Black No 8 jersey against France, is Brad Shields.
I applaud Steve Hansen and his selectors for the job they have done for so many years in selecting and managing our best players to play successfully for the All Blacks.
But in Brad Shields, they have missed a trick.
There are many factors to consider when making selections. One is balancing selection for specific roles, so that a combination of players, skill sets complement each other. The loose forward trio is probably the most misunderstood.
To simplify; think role. The role of the loose forward trio is to retain possession when their team has it, and to regain possession when the opposition have the ball.
The two most influential positions in this regard are the openside and the No 8, simply because they have easier access to the tackle/contact area from set play. The No 8 has more access to this vital area than any other position irrespective of which team has the ball or which direction play goes following the set play.
Therefore, this player is a crucial selection and needs to be an athlete with a huge work rate in attack and defence.
Kieran Read is outstanding in this regard, as is his decision-making. His injury raises the question of who else we have with these qualities in attack and defence. Liam Squire perhaps, but he is injured, which leaves Brad Shields as clearly the best option. His commitment, consistency, and work rate provide the skillset we expect from an All Black No 8.
There will be readers asking “what about Luke Whitelock?”
Fair enough, but I see Luke as the No 6 against France. He lacks the attacking flare required at No 8, but has this massive engine, huge work rate and incredible tackle count we need from a blindside flanker.
Test rugby is no place for cruisers. It is the realm of undeniable commitment.
Whitelock at 6, Cane at 7 & Shields at 8 does it for me, & will do the job for The AB’s.