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2021 Season Review - Halfbacks

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

Written by Max Sharp.

The All Blacks' Halfbacks Depth Chart from 2020-21.

Ian Foster has capped four halfbacks at lest level since becoming the All Blacks' Head Coach, picking players at varying stages of their international career.

Aaron Smith (33 years old) remains the first-choice halfback and is the nation's most-capped of all time for this particular position. Smith's experience is reinforced by TJ Perenara (30 years old) who has amassed 78 caps since his 2014 debut, although Perenara has played only 22 from the starting XV.

Despite battles against injury and competition for the 9 jersey within the Chiefs earlier in his career, Brad Weber (31 years old) defied the odds to earn a re-call to test level in 2019, after a four-year absence and has been ever-present in All Black squads since then. Weber now has 17 test caps, four as the starting halfback.

Scottish-born Tasman stalwart, Finlay Christie (26 years old) debuted for the All Blacks in 2021, having finally settled with a his third Super Rugby team, the Blues, having previously played for both the Chiefs and then the Hurricanes.

Foster's opinion on where which player fits into the pecking order of this position, the halfback depth chart, is incredibly close to the "ideal depth chart" I've composed, with the exception of extra minutes for Perenara due to Smith's paternity leave. Despite my vehement disagreement with his selections, there's one thing to compliment Foster's on, it would be for doing his best to create a good-looking chart.

The "Ideal Depth Chart", heading into a Rugby World Cup, based on theories of Max Sharp.

However, my worry is that a significant portion of the minutes played in the 9 jersey could end up becoming "grey" a term first coined by the 1014 Rugby, to describe player minutes voided by injury or retirement, preventing their participation at a Rugby World Cup.

You average rugby player tends to retire from their early 30's and onwards, while all of Foster's first three choices at halfback are aged 30 or older. With Christie's ongoing improvements to his game, as well as the potential of emerging halfbacks, such as Folau Fakatava (Highlanders), Xavier Roe and Cortez Ratima (both Chiefs), or possibly even Ere Enari (Moana Pasifika), and their chances to become All Blacks, this could suddenly create radical changes to the depth chart less than two years out from the World Cup.

Aaron Smith has managed to avoid the impact of several long-term injuries unlike many professional athletes, but in the dreaded scenario of an injury towards Smith this season, there is a possibility of Foster persisting with the selection of Perenara, Weber and Christie in his absence. Logically, a scenario such as this would see Perenara take the majority of the minutes at 9 in the 2022 season due to his experience.

If a Christie, as well as some uncapped rookies, manage to surpass Weber and Perenara in Foster's perceived pecking order in 2023, this could lead to them joining a Smith, recovered from injury, at the World Cup. The absence of Weber and Perenara would at this stage, turn more than half of the 1680 minutes available on the 9 depth chart into the colour grey.

Finlay Christie warms up for the Blues at Eden Park. Photo: Max Sharp.

While Foster has built some powerful foundations for the depth chart at 9 in the first half of this World Cup cycle, the axing of both Weber and Perenara is highly likely. Perenara played poorly in 2021, while Weber has very few test caps to his name for an experienced player. Christie is young enough to play at two World Cup tournaments, while Smith will for a fact continue to be selected barring injury.

No matter how powerful the foundations for anything are, there's a chance for anything to collapse, especially in a contact sport like rugby. If you want to confirm my collapse theory, it can indeed happen anywhere, just ask the Roman Empire.

Halfbacks Grade for 2021: D+

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