2022 End-of-Season Review: Midfielders
In the penultimate individual player review article for the entirety 2022 test season, there's plenty of food for thought, as the All Blacks' midfield picks for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, appear near-certain.
Five players captured minutes at second-five for the All Blacks in 2022, while five also accumulated minutes at centre; injuries have since narrowed down the possible choices for Ian Foster and the fellow selectors.
Let's all read through the performances of each All Black midfielder, as we discuss their 2022 seasons.
The All Blacks' 2020-22 Second-Five Depth Chart.
The All Blacks' 2020-22 Centre Depth Chart.
Midfielder Season Reviews
Rieko Ioane (850 minutes played) - 8/10
Ioane has played massive minutes in the Foster era, 2006 minutes of test rugby to be exact. Yet despite all this game time, he was still looking incredibly fresh by the season's end, scoring the team's best try of the year against England. He had a forgettable series against Ireland, but after changes happened to the front row, Ioane's quality instantly went up.
After being starved of ball in the initial stages of the season, Ioane was utilised far more on attack and it really showed. Completing the season with 2 tries, 716 metres, 32 defenders beaten and 8 clean breaks off 69 carries, 44 passes, 7 offloads, 72/78 tackles (92.3%), 1 turnover won and Player of the Match Awards against South Africa and Argentina, Ioane was selected for The Black Jersey's 2022 World XV after injury to Lukhanyo Am of South Africa.
The Black Jersey's 2022 World XV, as uploaded to YouTube.
After an incredibly long transition, Ioane confirmed he was indeed a centre, against France in 2021. After a few questions began to reignite, Ioane did what any class player would do, by shutting them down. An outstanding year.
David Havili (409 minutes played) - 7/10
While some appear to believe Havili has been booted from Foster's first-choice lineup, this isn't the case. Context needs to be applied to Havili's three matches off the bench to end the season. After missing two tests against Ireland due to a COVID isolation rule, Havili then strung together six straight starts, before a concussion.
Used as a substitute against Japan for reintegration after injury, Havili was used as a substitute against Wales and England, for rebuilding the 12 depth chart; Tupaea and Goodhue have been ruled out of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Havili may have been dismayed by Jordie Barrett's three starts at 12, but this was effectively Ian Foster's final chance to create an injury cover for Havili - persisting with Havili on the end-of-year tour would have created a 2023 catastrophe at 12, if he would be injured.
Form-wise, Havili remains a crucial fifth kicker for the backline, while he's retained his pace even after bulking up from 88kg to 96kg over the previous off-season. As a defensive workhorse, commanding a massive share of a depth chart, that has over 1000 invalid minutes, expect Havili to remain the first-choice 12 for the World Cup.
Quinn Tupaea (218 minutes played) - 6/10
Up until tearing both of his MCL and ACL ligaments, Quinn Tupaea had a healthy share of the All Blacks' 12 depth chart, with 569 minutes accumulated. Though a roller-coaster ride for the team confined Tupaea to just two starts, both against Ireland, his kicking game had undergone phenomenal improvement since his test debut.
Quinn Tupaea practices his long-range efforts at a Chiefs captains' run. Photo: Max Sharp.
With the ability to also cover wing and openside flanker, Tupaea's chances for the 2023 Rugby World Cup were a pretty safe bet, only for a certain Australian player to deliberately wreck them.
Tupaea will be able to return for Waikato's 2023 NPC campaign, though injury will see him out of the chance to prove himself for the World Cup. Though this is the case, Tupaea will hopefully be able to look back at some effective plays for the All Blacks as motivation.
Anton Lienert-Brown (115 minutes played) - 5/10
Having avoided a serious injury ever since his final year of high school, Lienert-Brown was forced to sit out much of the 2022 season after undergoing surgery on a re-injured shoulder. He'll be grateful to be back after 182 games of professional rugby, since debuting for the Chiefs aged just 18.
Anton Lienert-Brown grounds the ball to score a try for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes at Sky Stadium, during Super Rugby in 2022. Photo: Max Sharp.
A lack of match fitness was evident, but re-selecting Lienert-Brown was a smart move by Foster and co. as the 60-test veteran will now have a reference point for the standards he'll need to reach in 2023.
While David Havili and Rieko Ioane will probably force Lienert-Brown to wear jersey 23 at the World Cup due to combination-building, his experience will be highly valuable. Lienert-Brown will be a certainty for 2023 should he avoid injury.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (91 minutes played) - 3/10
This simply wasn't the right move for his career. Many believed this would be a second-coming of Sonny Bill Williams, while I held back to evaluate Tuivasa-Sheck based on what he would bring to the pitch. What's happened on the pitch, has instead been the second-coming of Ngani Laumape.
Having played in the NRL for 10 years, Tuivasa-Sheck turned up completely lacking a kicking game. While Williams eventually developed a comprehensive short-range one, this was thanks to a test debut aged 25. Tuivasa-Sheck is 29, time has simply run out for him to reach this level. He definitely should have converted codes earlier in his career.
Tuivasa-Sheck's very late code conversion has cost him dearly because while he clearly has a great attitude at training, his lack of experience in union has left him as a one-dimensional crash-ball runner who will gift easy turnovers to opponents and not do much without the ball. He'd have been far more successful had he converted codes around the age of 26.
Braydon Ennor (77 minutes played) - 3/10
After an appalling effort against Italy in 2021, a then-24-year old Ennor looked like a failed experiment in black, with David Havili instantly showing better teamwork with Quinn Tupaea in that test. After Jack Goodhue's return this season, Ennor was dropped, before playing two more tests after being called in.
Ennor played just 13 minutes against Ireland at Eden Park, before a start against Japan was essentially a mimic of his effort against Italy, aside from his first test try. After a sub-par showing for the All Blacks XV as well, it's safe to say Ennor probably peaked as a 21-year-old during 2019, becoming a tragic case of a player never recapturing old form after injury.
Having managed to accumulate barely a touch over 200 minutes for Ian Foster's side since 2020 and having no cohesion with any other available midfielders aside from Havili, Ennor is easily disposable from the team. This is especially with a hungry 26-year-old Alex Nankivell (Havili's Tasman teammate and Lienert-Brown's Chiefs teammate) now breathing down his neck after finally stringing together significant Super Rugby minutes.
Jack Goodhue (did not play) - No rating
Returned to the Crusaders during Super Rugby after an ACL reconstruction to have a bit of a mixed display. Though Goodhue was rewarded with a re-call to the All Blacks, it still felt as if something was wrong, especially with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck chosen over him for the third Ireland test.
An initial temporary release to play for Northland during the Rugby Championship's South Africa leg, saw Goodhue undergo scans for his previous ACL, with medical professionals announcing his injury had not healed properly. Goodhue has since undergone surgery again, so will miss the entire 2023 Super Rugby season.
Jack Goodhue (left) with a heavily bandaged knee, warms up with Caleb Clarke, (right) at Sky Stadium ahead of an All Blacks test against Ireland. Photo: Max Sharp.
As he has played just 354 minutes of test rugby for Ian Foster (all at 12), barely much more than Jordie Barrett, while being 27 years old with just 19 tests, Goodhue's test career, is over.
Midfielders Season Rating: 5/10