Ben Lam: a case of Form that needs All Blacks ‘buy in’

Ben Lam: a case of Form that needs All Blacks 'buy in'
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Often coaches talk of player ‘buy in’. Where the teams mentality and philosophies are brought into by the players within the team. Now, when looking at the form winger in Super Rugby, it very much is; Ben Lam: a case of form that needs All Blacks selectors buy in?

Ben Lam – or Blam!! as some have referred to him as – must be considered for selection. The above picture is what opposition players are now more used to seeing. Coaches talk of form all the time, and it is what he displays widely. Not as in race horse form, but the wing position essentially is a ‘need to produce’ role.

Score tries, assists and in being dynamic. That is form, so when it is seen by the public, expectations are justified in expected selection. Not the case always though.

Numerous cases exist of what appears to be form, being ignored. In English Rugby currently, a winger who competes in the French Top14 is regularly overlooked. Simply because he does not hold a place with an English club. Chris Ashton might be the record try scorer in French rugby, but Eddie Jones is not going to select the form winger – policy does not meet the evidence.

If the All Blacks are going to be seen a rewarding form, then Ben Lam needs recognition.

His hat-trick against the Lions included both finishing, and opportunistic dynamism. Lam has checked that box, and all eyes are now on the selectors.

Ben Lam: a case of Form that needs All Blacks ‘buy in’

On Sunday May 20, the national selectors roll-out the 32 man squad for the June Internationals. France are bringing their individual style of rugby, and it requires the very best New Zealand team to repel them.

Yes, some might say that the fifth ranked team in World Rugby shouldn’t trouble the All Blacks. But Les Bleus ‘always do’. They always have, and even in late November, the All Blacks might have looked assured (for 40 minutes) but then, they had trouble putting them away.

Jacques Brunel was promoted to the head coach role in December, and he will bring the finest players from the continent on his first tour. Apart from injury, all the players will be in-form. That is, match form. Hardened by months of combat, so they will be hungry.

Not withstanding the short build-up for some; after the Top14 playoffs, Brunel will assemble his men and communicate the desires of the French team. The pride, and….the fine history of beating the All Blacks on New Zealand soil.

So Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox have to take this tour very seriously.

Challenge ahead a scene set for BLAM to shine

The key for any player wanting to force their way into an test side, is performance. Show others your skill set. Plus, they must be communicated with, that they either are given encouragement, or criticism. That gives the individual both an understanding of any chances they have, plus whether they have skills to work on.

From what the media has reported, Lam has not been given the type of endorsement from the All Blacks head coach, or selectors. Few words that would make this clear. Looking at mentions of Ben Lam from the All Blacks selectors, they have been limited.

What you find most reporters commenting on is ‘why wouldn’t you pick him?’

Some might have asked: is this a question that public persuasion might influence? And the answer is No, not necessarily. Possibly in other sports, maybe more in other nations without the high pedigree, it could have – but this selection panel will not likely be as concerned with public relations.

The All Blacks coaches already have ‘plans’ in place. Some towards a key month in 2019, and some plans have been based around selections made in the 2017 Rugby Championship and the 2017 end of year tour. From history, they do not ‘chop and change’.

So standing in the path of Ben Lam are the recent additions; David Havili, Seta Tamanivalu and Matt Duffie. Lam’s pathway is by rights, filled. However, the argument must be ‘are those players performing well enough to halt the Hurricanes juggernaut?’

What other player could force their way over in the corner, under the attention of Lima Sopoaga, Tevita Li and Waisake Naholo. Blam can!

Ben Lam of the Hurricanes scores a try during the round six Super Rugby match at Westpac Stadium on March 24, 2018 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

In context, the competition up against Ben Lam

Maybe in comparison, Ben Lam has positives and some negatives. Factors which might influence, or negate his selection – and that is in context. The competition is tougher in 2018, to be what they used to call a ‘bolter’.

Few can replicate the instant appeal of a Jonah Lomu. At 19, he was undeniably a phenomenon. One that could only occur once in lifetime, and Lomu was bigger and more fearsome than his closest rivals. Anecdotal evidence says ‘Terry Wright weighed virtually as much as one of Lomu’s legs!’

At 110kg and 6’4, Ben Lam (BLAM)  rivals his Hurricanes teammate Julian ‘The Bus’ Savea for size. He may have the edge on him in pace too, having clocked under 11 seconds for the 100 meters as a teenager. He has many positives going for him, and could be the equal of French star Teddy Thomas.

But in context, Ben Lam will have to have more positives than negatives. Here, Scotty Stevenson chose his detail precisely. Lam has many figures on his side. [Courtesy of the Spinoff];

  • his tackling percentage is 82%, which is above Jordie Barrett (77%), Beauden Barrett (75%), and Ngani Laumape(72%), and Waisake Naholo (76%) and Rieko Ioane (76%)
  • average gain per carry of 9.18 metres, just bettered byone New Zealand winger – Manasa Mataele, who has been spoken about in possible options too. As has Solomon Alaimalo
  • turned the ball over just eight times. By comparison, Damian McKenzie has turned the ball over 21 times – the most of any New Zealand outside back, followed by Alaimalo (19).

He does have faults (apparently). Parts of his game concern, such as carrying the ball in the wrong hand. That might be a technicality, when considering his tally of tries. They say he does not work hard enough on defence. Yet, appears to be stronger than many of his contemporaries. They say he is less effective under the high ball…yet, few teams have tested him. So it might only be in the test arena, that he is in fact ‘tested’.

And it is that International stage, where he actually has more experience than others his age. Under pressure, he has the International awareness that few others can match. Like Chris Ashton, selection is not impeded because of a ‘lack of experience’.

Ben Lam an International quality outside back

Missing much of 2016; which included the rare opportunity of an Rugby Sevens Olympic campaign, due to injury, Lam is now fit and firing. That is why fans are enjoying his form. And even if that has only peaked now, it is still a rich vein that the All Blacks selectors should not ignore.

Why? Because he is an established professional. Since being signed in 2017 to join the Hurricanes, his performances are trending upwards. They in fact have been in contrast to that of 54 test-capped All Black Julian Savea. Edging him to the point that Savea has switched to the right wing, because Lam is considered the more attacking left wing.

Ben Lam holds a didgeridoo after NZ’s win at the 2016 Sydney Sevens Final between New Zealand and Australia at Allianz Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Renee McKay/Getty Images)

He could also be relied on to have the temperament that Hansen and Foster seem often to quibble that any young player lacks. At Lam’s age, he by rights has ‘seen it all before’.

And that should be the evidence seen by Steve Hansen.

Unlike Ben Smith – who is the better fullback – he is a form winger. Specialists might not be the favourite of the All Blacks, but Jacob Stockdale and George North will prove that ‘specialization has its merits’.

A special player should be analyzed. Any player should be compared. But fans have already done that. They may assume that he has attributes which [if New Zealand chose to select as winger] an Israel Dagg might not guarantee. Yes, an Waisake Naholo has 18 caps, yet is he in the same vein of form? And it is that form comparison, that is very important for fans.

Even if the All Blacks selectors do not need public approval, they must be aware of public knowledge. And publicly, Ben Lam is clearly the form winger in Super Rugby 2018.

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