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Jim Kayes

Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport.  He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.

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OPINION: Who stood out for the Maori All Blacks?

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Jim Kayes     04 Nov 2017     Getty Images

Ngatai was impressive at the back in the Maori All Blacks’ 51-9 win against an understrength Canada in Vancouver.

He was solid on defence, scored a nice try and had a hand in several others as the space and time found at fullback seemed to suit him.

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He’s not a rookie at the back having been a star at fullback when he captained Gisborne Boys High School’s First XV before he made his first class debut for Poverty Bay aged 18, in 2008.

He has spent most of his first class career in the midfield and it was there that he played his one and (so far) only Test for the All Blacks against Samoa in Apia in 2015.

Injuries, and in particular concussion, haven't helped him add to that tally, but neither has the presence of blokes like Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu, and more lately Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape and Jack Goodhue.

The road to the All Blacks is just as cluttered at fullback where Ben Smith’s sabbatical has shown Damian McKenzie is a worthy test player and there is good depth through the likes of Jordie Barrett, Israel Dagg and David Havili.

But Ngatai, 27, is a smart footballer and he has the physical attributes to make the switch back to fullback including the pace that saw him attend the Sydney Youth Olympics as a 100m sprinter in 2007.
If, as seems will happen, McKenzie shifts to first five at the Chiefs, then the door opens for Ngatai to slip back to fullback for next year’s Investec Super Rugby season.

It’s a move that may prolong his career because it removes him from the front line of rugby’s increasingly big hits.

Of course fullbacks aren’t immune to concussion - but it will help.

The Maori All Blacks were perhaps flattered a tad by the scoreline in Vancouver as Canada had almost a full starting XV unavailable because the game fell outside the international window where clubs must release their players.

But you can only play who you play and the Maori were impressive in parts of their play with Tim Bateman and Sean Wainui joining Ngatai with high quality performances is the backs.
Bateman may never play for the All Blacks but there is a Crotty-esque reliability about his performances.

Up front, the Maori pack dominated Canada, especially in the scrums, and there were glimpses again of how good No.8 Akira Ioane might be.

There is no contender to Kieran Read’s hold on the All Blacks’ No.8 jersey and, more worryingly, no real specialist back up.

Ardie Savea can play there and Jerome Kaino is set to start there against the Barbarians at Twickenham - but they are really an openside and blindside respectively.

The Maori All Blacks tour is Ioane’s chance to further his claim to be Read’s deputy and eventual successor.

He scored a try against Canada, was tough on defence and showed skill and pace at times - but as coach Clayton McMillan said before the match, he needs to bring great consistency to his performance.
He has to be more of an 80 minute man.