Written by Max Sharp.
In our third article surrounding the ratings for individual players across their position for the 2022 international season, we will venture into the locking stocks. All players capped by Ian Foster at lock for the All Blacks, played minutes in both 4 and 5 through the season, though Scott Barrett has now played more minutes than Brodie Retallick during the World Cup cycle; though his share of the lock depth chart is smaller, due to minutes in other positions.
The locking combination was able to demonstrate a decent amount of consistency during a roller-coaster season, so prepare yourselves for the praise, as we begin the conversation.
The All Blacks' 2020-22 Lock Depth Chart.
Lock Season Reviews
Sam Whitelock (871 minutes played) - 9/10
In a year where the national team struggled, a titanic player had a titanic year in black. Winding the clock back to years like 2011 and 2017, he is a certainty to feature in The Black Jersey World XV for 2022, while also clocking up his 18th test as All Blacks captain.
Whitelock's stats sheet for the season was 1 try, 194 metres run and 7 defenders beaten off 52 carries, 52 passes, 4 offloads, 118/122 tackles and 8 turnovers won from 11 tests, while Whitelock is now up to 143 test caps, making him the third-to-most capped player in the sport's history. The number 5 is also just six test caps away from breaking Richie McCaw's record as the most-capped All Black, opening a genuine possibility of becoming just the second player to reach 150 tests, after Alun Wyn Jones.
Sam Whitelock walks off Eden Park after a victory over Ireland. Photo: Max Sharp.
Here's hoping Whitelock will have a good rest over the off-season, so we can get one final year of his workaholic tendencies in the famed jersey.
Scott Barrett (749 minutes played) - 7/10
Aside from lifting the title for a third-year running as Captain, Barrett had a disappointing outing for the Crusaders in 2022; a red card included. The international season however, was a turnaround.
While Barrett played the majority of his minutes at lock due to Retallick's injury troubles; he appeared to become the first-choice blindside flanker, wearing the 6 jersey in the season-opener against Ireland, the Rugby Championship-deciding test against Australia and a season-ending fixture against England.
With Barrett providing big muscle up front and a solid lineout presence, he has become indispensable; starting in all 10 of his test caps for 2022. Due to Ian Foster's persistence with selecting two openside flankers in Sam Cane and Ardie Savea, in the starting XV, the answer is clearly to put a third lock, into 6; with Shannon Frizell's 1.95m stature as the back-up. The 6 jersey is no longer that of a flanker, it is that of a third lock.
Brodie Retallick (492 minutes played) - 4/10
Not the way Retallick would have wanted his season to go. After the death of his son due to miscarriage in 2017, Retallick spent the coming seasons in-and-out of the All Blacks while injured, before finally getting an uninterrupted 2021 season. 2022 however, saw him back in the in-and-out pattern.
Brodie Retallick and his teammates head to half-time. Photo: Max Sharp.
After ordinary performances against Ireland, prior to a facial fracture in the third test, Retallick was then able to string just five matches together; as he was red-carded for a clear high shot against Japan.
Retallick was luckily however, able to finish his overall disappointing season with his best match of the year, while also earning his 100th test cap, against England. Perhaps this is a sign of a more promising season in 2023, the year at which he has hinted, will be his last as an All Black.
Tupou Vaa'i (156 minutes played) - 5/10
Playing 7 tests, Vaa'i sadly played just 156 minutes of test rugby, despite being the form lock of the Super Rugby season. Deserving of a far more prolific season, one must hope that Vaa'i's place in the depth chart doesn't showcase his genuine role in the team - Vaa'i is fifth place as things stand.
A dynamic player that can play both lock and blindside, with a high tackle accuracy rate, deserved much better from the selectors. Vaa'i is now the finished product, a hard-hitting tree trunk who can hold his own at the highest level now.
Tupou Vaa'i (centre left) trains with Cortez Ratima (left) and Atu Moli (centre right) at a Chiefs captains' run. Photo: Max Sharp.
While the All Blacks' selectors clearly see Vaa'i, as well as Josh Lord, as the future of the locking department, a season like this doesn't demonstrate the best possible faith in Vaa'i for the long-term; he did not come on against Argentina in Christchurch. If Vaa'i is to be omitted for 2023, he will look back and see 2022 as a foreshadow for this; a risk factor in a potential overseas departure. Vaa'i deserved better this year.
Patrick Tuipulotu (35 minutes played) - 4/10
Tuipulotu won't be rated due to accumulating just 35 minutes of game time in two test caps off the bench - he missed The Rugby Championship due to a neck injury, before being lended to the All Blacks XV, to play as captain for Leon MacDonald's side.
This was highly disappointing to see, especially as Tuipulotu appeared to be filling the role of the All Blacks' vice-captain in the 2020 season, though a player was not officially appointed in this position. Tuipulotu's Japan sabbatical was poorly timed, he's just 2 minutes ahead of Vaa'i on the lock depth chart now and would be equal if minutes at 6 were applied.
With 43 tests in the space of 8 seasons, compared to other players' quick accumulation of caps, Tuipulotu's slow accumulation of test caps may have potentially run its course, with his chances of making the World Cup uncertain.
Josh Lord (did not play) - No rating
Lord made his test debut against the USA in 2021 after being welcomed into the team as a development project, with Scott Barrett and Patrick Tuipulotu unavailable for selection at the time.
In 2022 however, Lord was able to retain his place thanks to form, becoming a commanding impact player for the Chiefs. A knee injury that caused him to miss the back-end of the Chiefs' season however, was more serious than initially thought. Lord withdrew from the team due to his ACL rupture and has been recovering ever since.
Lord was not rated as he did not play in 2022, but will hopefully be back soon.
Josh Dickson (did not play) - No rating
Dickson was called into the team as injury cover for Retallick and Tuipulotu during The Rugby Championship, but wasn't able to make his test debut, due to a tight competition forcing Foster to keep his first-choice players in throughout the tournament.
Though Dickson has yet to earn a test cap, strong performances for the All Blacks XV will have cemented his place as the next cab off the rank. At 28 years old though, will the Australian-born Highlander want to be a 7th-choice player for much longer? Time will tell.
Locks Season Rating: 6/10