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All Black prop stocks are looking bare warns John Afoa

Former All Blacks prop John Afoa believes New Zealand’s front row is vulnerable – and that the state of propping in England is better than in his homeland.

World Cup-winner Afoa, who is in his third season at Gloucester, says there is too little depth at prop in New Zealand and that they face a challenge in keeping quality front rowers at home.

It was announced last month that All Black Charlie Faumuina, 30, will join Toulouse next season from the Auckland Blues, and Afoa says the move is indicative of a wider issue facing the All Blacks.

Afoa fears the Premiership could be stealing a march on Super Rugby in terms of the depth and quality of propping and that when the Red Rose finally take on New Zealand they would pose a significant “danger” to the All Blacks up front.

Afoa, capped 36 times by New Zealand between 2005 and 2011, told The Rugby Paper: “You look at the Premiership – 12 teams – and then you look back home and they’ve only got five Super Rugby teams. So do the maths.

“Over there they’ve only got five starting tightheads and over here you’ve got a lot more. The Premiership has come a long way. Although there are a few foreign players in the front row, there are a lot of talented English players.”

Afoa, 33, names Leicester’s Dan Cole, Harlequins’ Kyle Sickler and Kieran Brookes at Northampton as his most admired English tightheads.

“Across the board, you look at the tighthead side and you’ve got Colesy, Sinckler, Brookes and there are other guys coming through. There’s a lot of talent and they are getting exposed to a lot of international players so the quality here could be dangerous for New Zealand.”

Afoa, who left the Blues after the 2011 World Cup to join Ulster, before making the switch to Kingsholm, added: “Holding onto those older players is a challenge for New Zealand – especially with a guy like Charlie, left, going to Toulouse –  that’s the kind of guy they used to have who would stay and help develop younger guys. But he’s left.

“You lose people like him, you lose that experience for the next generation to learn off. New Zealand have shown that they’ve got a good squad of 30, but one or two injuries and the players start getting younger – they don’t have that middle tier that’s as strong as what England have.

“England will have a good squad to choose from and it’s just about putting it into practice.”

TOM BRADSHAW

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