September 21, 2018 / 6:56 AM / a month ago

Rugby-Goodhue emerges to stake claim for centre start

WELLINGTON, Sept 21 (Reuters) - In an All Blacks backline bursting with attacking, headline-grabbing talent, it is little wonder that Jack Goodhue, like one of his predecessors in the number 13 shirt Conrad Smith, tends to be a little overlooked.

Goodhue’s performance off the bench in the 36-34 loss to the Springboks last week might have changed all that, though, with one columnist subsequently describing him as New Zealand’s best centre “by three country miles”.

The All Blacks were being put under huge pressure by South Africa’s fast and aggressive defensive line but time and again the 23-year-old straightened the attack and, by adding a little extra punch to the running, kept the home side going forward.

Looking like he had been playing test rugby for years rather than just a few weeks, Goodhue made a strong case for a spot as New Zealand’s first-choice centre at next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘overconfident’ but he has a lot of self-belief and it’s justified,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said of Goodhue earlier this year.

“It’s not a cockiness, it’s just an inner belief in who he is as a person and I think that reflects in how he plays.”

While Goodhue look set to make a major impression on the global stage next year, his career has not been without hurdles.

Raised on a farm in the far north of New Zealand but schooled at Mt. Albert Grammar High School in Auckland, Goodhue was the first XV’s vice-captain. Twin brother Josh, a lock who now plays for the Auckland Blues, was the captain.

He moved to study Agricultural Science at Lincoln University, south of Christchurch, in 2014 and made the Canterbury provincial side but was restricted to five games due to concussion.

After two appearances for the All Blacks Sevens side in early 2015, he helped the ‘Baby Blacks’ under-20s side to their fifth World Cup and returned for Canterbury only to tear knee ligaments.

The injury kept him out of rugby for almost eight months and delayed his Super Rugby debut until last year when his pace, distribution and organisational skills made him a first choice centre as the Crusaders won an eighth title.

PREFERRED COMBINATION

While his performances made him hard to ignore, Hansen’s preferred replacements for Smith and Ma’a Nonu in midfield for the 2019 World Cup was expected to be the Sonny Bill Williams-Ryan Crotty pairing.

That experienced duo, however, have been blighted by injuries over the last two years, forcing Hansen to look elsewhere with Anton Lienert-Brown and Ngani Laumape coming into the equation.

Goodhue was initially surprised when he was named as injury cover for the 2017 British and Irish Lions series because of his previous lack of contact with the All Blacks selectors.

He was officially included in an extended All Blacks squad for their end-of-season tour last year, even if he did arrive late after contracting mumps.

Goodhue played one, non-test, match on that tour and after another outstanding Super Rugby season was named in the All Blacks squad for the series against France in June, where he impressed on his debut in the third match.

With Williams out with a shoulder injury, he earned his second start against the Wallabies in the opening game of the Rugby Championship and ended up giving Crotty a concussion after an accidental head clash. He kept his place for the next two tests but he was initially going to be rested for the Springboks match until Williams withdrew with illness, allowing him to once again illustrate his growing stature in the All Blacks backline.

“He’s a very, very talented player,” former All Blacks captain Wayne Shelford told the Northern Advocate newspaper.

“I’ve also spoken to a number of people about him and I’ve got nothing but good raps on the kid.

“He’s got a big future in the game.” (Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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