All Blacks selection raises eyebrows
June 28, 2010
The latest selection of All Blacks head coach Graham Henry has surprised many © Getty Images
The outcome of the All Blacks' Tests against Ireland and Wales was very much as I had expected - the home side playing with much too much pace and intensity for their northern visitors and emerging as comfortable winners.
The Irish, hampered by the gormless actions of Jamie Heaslip, sent off for kneeing Richie McCaw in the head, were never competitive and looked a side without a great deal of depth. The Welsh, on the other hand, were competitive in certain areas of their game and for periods of each of the two Tests they played. In the end, however, the All Blacks simply had too much class, had better control over the basics of their game and a killer instinct way beyond anybody playing the game in the northern hemisphere.
All of which makes the announcement of the All Blacks squad to contest the upcoming Tri-Nations series rather curious and no doubt baffling for those players omitted.
The backs who made the most impression during the June Tests were fullback Israel Dagg, on the basis of a very good debut against the Irish, Corey Jane, playing on the wing but who also offers an option at fullback because of his intelligent positional sense and ability to make progress every time he receives the ball, and Aaron Cruden, successfully introduced to Test rugby for the first time as cover for Dan Carter. Although the latter refound the form against the Welsh that had eluded him during the Super 14 season.
Benson Stanley, at second five eighth, made a less eye-catching impact but that possibly underestimates his contribution. The solidity of his performance was probably buying the All Blacks some time before the return of the injured Ma'a Nonu, and it will be interesting to see how the coaches go about utilising the talents of both these players. Conrad Smith is clearly the first choice centre but Richard Kahui, deputising in the second Test against the Welsh, showed that he has a big match game.
The continuing absence of Hosea Gear from the squad is hard to understand and the omission of young winger Zac Guilford seems perverse. He made his debut on the northern tour at the end of 2009 and was being groomed for World Cup 2011, but the claims of the untried Northland wing/centre Rene Ranger have earned him the nod ahead of Guildford. Perhaps Ranger offers more versatility and is a much more abrasive individual than the diminutive Guildford?
The unluckiest forwards are Adam Thomson and Aled de Malmanche. Thomson had seemed to be making good progress in the All Black back row as cover to Auckland's Jerome Kaino. However, Victor Vito has emerged as an alternative No.6 following his appearance in the second half against the Irish and for the whole of the first Test against the Welsh. Thomson got no significant game time in any of the Tests and there seems little logic in the selectors' decision to dump him. Don't be surprised to see the abrasive Thomson heading overseas.
Waikato hooker de Malmanche was also offered little game time in which to make an impression and now finds himself overtaken by the injury-prone Corey Flynn. The latter was part of the Maori team's successful centenary season but de Malmanche, who also qualifies for the Maori side, was denied the opportunity of game time in order to sit on the All Black bench. Another perverse decision.
At a time when the All Whites have been making all the sporting headlines in New Zealand because of their extraordinary exploits in South Africa, there has been little general interest generated by this June international programme. Whilst the Tests were well attended, the lack of competitiveness provided by the Irish, and to a lesser extent by the Welsh, is of real concern and it will be interesting to see how this affects nationwide support for the Tri-Nations series.
New Zealand Tri-Nations squad:
Forwards: John Afoa (Auckland), Anthony Boric (North Harbour), Tom Donnelly (Otago), Corey Flynn (Canterbury), Ben Franks (Tasman),Owen Franks (Canterbury), Jerome Kaino ( Auckland), Richie McCaw (capt) (Canterbury), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Liam Messam (Waikato), Kieran Read (Canterbury), Brad Thorn (Canterbury) Victor Vito (Wellington ), Samuel Whitelock (Canterbury), Tony Woodcock (North Harbour)
Backs: Daniel Carter (Canterbury), Jimmy Cowan (Southland), Aaron Cruden (Manawatu), Israel Dagg (Hawke's Bay), Cory Jane (Wellington), Richard Kahui (Waikato), Mils Muliaina (Waikato), Ma'a Nonu (Wellington), Rene Ranger (Northland), Josevata Rokocoko (Auckland), Conrad Smith (Wellington), Benson Stanley (Auckland), Piri Weepu (Wellington)