Shannon Frizell could be eighth wonder

All Black loose forward Shannon Frizell looks towards the action along with French lock Bernard le Roux at Forsyth Barr Stadium last weekend. Photo: Peter McIntosh
All Black loose forward Shannon Frizell looks towards the action along with French lock Bernard le Roux at Forsyth Barr Stadium last weekend. Photo: Peter McIntosh

There was a time when it looked as if the All Blacks were never going to find a successor to Jerome Kaino.

A few pretenders emerged between 2009 and 2015 but none stuck around long enough or were consistently good enough to convince as the heir apparent.

It hit a new low in early 2016 when Victor Vito announced he was off to France and Liam Messam committed to playing sevens.

The All Blacks had to start a new search, focusing on the uncapped Elliot Dixon and Liam Squire, knowing the clock was ticking as Kaino had turned 33.

How quickly and significantly things have changed has been highlighted in the past month. The All Blacks went through the June series without Kaino and no one noticed because now there is an abundance of promising blindsides.

Kaino is checking out of New Zealand rugby and although the All Blacks don't have an embarrassment of riches at blindside, they have a considerable pool of promising talent - all of whom feel like they are worthy of further investment.

Which has created a different problem. From having too few emerging options at blindside, the All Blacks now have too many and although coach Steve Hansen has held the same view about quality players as Wallis Simpson did about money - that one can never have too much - it seems ill-advised to be stockpiling so much resource in just one position.

Ill-advised when their resources at No8 are limited. What the June series did was highlight how much the All Blacks need Kieran Read and also illustrate the distance by which he is the best No8 in the country.

The All Blacks missed him against France. Luke Whitelock provides defensive solidity but lacks pace, dynamism and creativity with ball in hand.

His attacking game is restricted by his lack of explosive impact and at 27, he has longevity, but it's unlikely he's going to find the improvements he needs to become a long-term option for the All Blacks.

Whitelock is a strong holding option.

Read will return for the Rugby Championship assuming his back holds up the way everyone hopes and he'll target being there through to the 2019 World Cup.

His contract expires in 2019 and given his injury history, the toll he's put his body through and that he'll be 34 with nothing more to prove, there's little expectation he'll look to extend his career beyond the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

It would seem, then, the All Blacks have about 18 months to groom and develop a successor to Read and the solution may lie in trying to convert one of their many blindsides.

Jordan Taufua is still an option at No8 but with Read returning, it might not be possible to fit Taufua into the Rugby Championship squad.

It may come down to a choice of Taufua or Shannon Frizell to be retained in the 33-man squad and by virtue of the latter having ticked plenty of boxes on his unexpected debut in the third test in Dunedin, he may be the one who survives.

And it may also be because the selectors like the idea of trying to convert Frizell from the side of the scrum to the boot.

Squire and Vaea Fifita present the All Blacks with the two options they need at blindside and potentially Jackson Hemopo is going to stay involved with the squad, covering lock and No6.

Frizell's longer term future may be at No8 as he's a similar athlete in size, intent and ability to Read, who also began his career as a blindside before he was persuaded by Hansen to shift to No8 in 2009.

At 1.95m and 108kg, Frizell has the physique the All Blacks like in that position.

He is a lineout option, has good pace and acceleration and brings a desire to hurt people with or without the ball.

That sort of physicality goes a long way in test football and Frizell, although he was understandably a bit lost in the first half of his debut, settled into the sort of performance against France in Dunedin that suggests he is generally equipped to make it at this level.

From that base, he could become the rangy, ball-playing force the All Blacks will be looking for at No8 in 2020 if they are prepared to give him a bit of game time in the role sporadically throughout this year and next.

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