Australia v New Zealand, Brisbane, August 27
Weepu determined to 'do the business'
August 26, 2011
Weepu can expect to provide cover at scrum-half and fly-half during next month's Rugby World Cup © Getty Images
New Zealand scrum-half Piri Weepu is relishing his belated Rugby World Cup bow but before then he has his sights set on victory over Australia in their Tri-Nations decider in Brisbane.
The last time the southern hemisphere crown was on the line before a World Cup, Weepu was forced to watch from the stands as the All Blacks lapped Eden Park with the Bledisloe Cup also in tow following their 26-12 victory over the Wallabies. The next morning, Weepu was surprisingly left out of the World Cup squad with Andy Ellis named as the third halfback behind Byron Kelleher and Brendon Leonard.
Ellis had not featured in the All Blacks' 2007 international schedule to that point but Weepu, who had played five of the Tests, paid $500 and then the ultimate price for a curfew-breaking drinking session while the team was in Auckland. That disciplinary lapse in the company of Flavell, Ross Filipo, Rico Gear, John Schwalger and Conrad Smith -- the only offender to make the Cup squad -- sealed his fate with Graham Henry and forced him to reconsider his future as a professional footballer.
A code switch to rugby league was mooted, also a move offshore, but Weepu stayed put in his beloved Wellington and gradually regained the trust of All Black management. Being chosen as captain when the 2008 Grand Slam-winning All Blacks played Munster 30 years after the Irish province's momentous victory indicated Weepu was regarded as a leader and since then he has played 21 Tests -- emphasising his coming of age.
And now, in stark contrast to four years ago, Weepu also starts against the Wallabies in the Tri-Nations decider at Suncorp Stadium tomorrow night, continuing a trend that has seen the nuggety 27-year-old generally run on against the Australians. Henry struggled to explain yesterday why Weepu, who has started just 17 of his 48 tests, is favoured to stay on the field when the Wallabies face the haka though statistically he is a lucky charm.
All but one of Weepu's 13 trans-Tasman Tests have ended in the All Blacks favour ahead of his fifth start against the Wallabies when he renews a keen rivalry with Will Genia, an opponent he places of the same pedestal as South Africa's Fourie du Preez. Weepu, selected ahead of Ellis and Jimmy Cowan when the line-up was named yesterday, reflected on the progress he has made since getting offside with Henry when the last World Cup beckoned.
"I guess it's huge for myself after 2007," he admitted. "I'm thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this campaign leading into what's going to be a great thing for our country. I've come a long way since then. It was a learning curve for me and I haven't looked back," he said, realising: "I know can't take it for granted. I have to do the business leading into it."
Weepu suffered a setback when a broken leg ruled him out of last year's Grand Slam-winning tour and the Hurricanes fractious Super Rugby campaign was another frustration he had to overcome before his recall to the national team for the season-opening test against Fiji at Carisbrook. Henry confessed he was undecided about who was his No.1 halfback as the All Blacks try and emulate the inaugural World Cup winners of 1987 at Eden Park on October 23.
"We've got three halfbacks we're pleased with. Who do you play in each particular Test?" he asked. For tomorrow at least Weepu is the number one No.9. "He's a bright boy on the game. We value his ability to play, he's made a lot of progress in our environment over the last six weeks," said Henry who also chose Weepu when the Bledisloe Cup was retained at Eden Park on August 6.
Weepu, who accepts he could be back on the bench or in the stands at any time, said he was relieved to start the World Cup dress rehearsal. "It's always an honour. Me, Jimmy and Andy have been pushing each other all year. This is a basically a final and you always want to start. I have to make sure I do the business."
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