7 Jul 2017

Lions tour: Sizing up the new boys

5:54 pm on 7 July 2017

Opinion - The year of 2015 saw the rise of Nehe Milner-Skudder. Last year it was Damian McKenzie.

Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape.

Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape. Photo: Photosport NZ

To continue on the tradition of meteoric rises lately, this season doubled down and gave us a couple of young stars that have burst their way into the All Blacks this weekend.

But Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett have a slightly tougher assignment than NMS and DMac. They come into an All Black team under intense scrutiny and pressure. With only two caps between them (both off the bench), they are going to be targeted heavily by the Lions on Saturday night.

Both men are from the Hurricanes, although their pathways to top-level rugby couldn't have been more different.

Kevin 'Smiley' Barrett most likely got his nickname because of the amount of fun he had making his eight children, five of whom are boys. Jordie is the youngest, and will join Beauden and Scott in the All Blacks for the second time this year.

It's a far cry from his first test, a 78-0 hiding the All Blacks handed Manu Samoa, which he came off the bench for almost a month ago.

Jordie will be dealing with a barrage of bombs at the back of the All Black defensive line, and the pressure will be on him to make a difference on the counterattack.

Meanwhile, Laumape escaped the raging trash fire that is the Warriors and moved back to play union last year. After spending two years in the 13-man code, he made probably the most astute decision in professional football in recent years - setting his sights on an All Black jersey and achieving his dream after a sensational season in the capital.

He made his debut last week, joining a big-name club of All Blacks whose first match was a loss: Jonah Lomu, Ma'a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko and even Milner-Skudder.

He also had the added pressure of having to plug the hole left by Sonny Bill Williams' early departure.

So what are we to expect from these two? It'll be an interesting watch as Laumape is probably best described as predictable, while Barrett is the complete opposite.

Laumape will run in straight lines all night. He is an integral part of the Hurricanes' exit strategy from their own 22, used primarily to gain some valuable real estate off defensive lineouts for clearing kicks. That's when he's 95m away from the opposition tryline. When he gets closer the trigger is pulled on Laumape's capability to simply barge over the top of whoever is marking him.

Jordie's first touch for the All Blacks was a leaping catch and backflip pass infield that almost set up a try.

That sort of thing has been his modus operandi so far this year, reaping the benefits of Laumape and brother Beauden's skill. The Barrett-to-Barrett cross kick has been a feature of the Hurricane gameplan in 2017, part of the reason the Super Rugby champions have scored 85 tries this season.

It's been a while since the All Blacks have thrown two inexperienced guys into the mix in such an important Test. However, Laumape's linebreaking and Barrett's ability to make something from nothing might just be a feint by the All Black coaching staff.

The first test was won by maintaining possession and sending the forwards to do the majority of the ball carrying. The All Blacks will probably try and multiply that significantly - so if they can, it's unlikely the new boys will play much of a creative role until the ball gets quite close to the line.

Either way, it won't matter as long as they get the job done.

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