New Zealand rugby
Mealamu wants successor to earn jersey
April 13, 2013
Keven Mealamu (left) is one of a group of All Blacks nearing the end of their international careers © Getty Images
Veteran All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu knows his time in international rugby is coming to an end, but warned that his successor must be prepared to fight for his beloved No. 2 jersey.
At 34 years old, Mealamu is part of an "ageing" group coach Steve Hansen plans to "shut off" in the build-up to New Zealand's IRB Rugby World Cup defence in 2015.
On Tuesday Hansen confirmed he will lead New Zealand to the tournament in England and signalled his intentions to begin the inevitable transition towards younger players.
"If you talk to any All Black it's not about handing it over, it's about making the next person earn it," Mealamu said. "It's not something you sort of give away and say 'oh yeah it's your time' it's something that people who have been in the jersey have worked hard for. We want to make sure the next person is that hungry to come and take it [from us]."
Andrew Hore (34), Ali Williams (32), Tony Woodcock (31), Conrad Smith (31), Cory Jane (30), Ma'a Nonu (30), Piri Weepu (29) are among those who could be phased out in the next two years, while Dan Carter (31) and captain Richie McCaw (32) are largely expected to compete in 2015.
Hansen is undecided on a time frame for the process, but could look to begin blooding new players as soon as June when the All Blacks play three Test against France.
"I think it's fair, you look at the guys leading the team they've been around for a while now," Mealamu said. It probably is time for us to start getting some new blood through there as well so I think it's a good call and it's probably around the time it should happen as well. It something we've talked about, it's like anything, everything evolves."
Mealamu's New Zealand Rugby Union contract expires at the end of the year. Although the prospect of adding to his 102 Test caps is appealing, he revealed that a stint overseas could be on the cards.
"You always have an eye to the future and you always want to have a plan in place," Mealamu said. "But if I'm talking about now, I feel really good and keen to compete so I'll make sure I go out and do that because that's the way I feel. Obviously there's some talks going on at the moment, they haven't been resolved yet.
"I really love it here in New Zealand, I love playing in this competition, I love being close to the family here. But you just have to wait, it's a two-way thing. I'm trying to find what's best for my family and, also from the NZRU's point of view, what's best here as well."