New Zealand rugby comment
Time for All Blacks candidates to give their all
Jeff Wilson
May 7, 2013
Dan Carter produced a masterclass against the Brumbies, Super Rugby, Round 12, Brumbies v Crusaders, Canberra, May 5, 2013
Dan Carter set the bar high with a return to form against the Brumbies, now other All Blacks have to follow © Getty Images

We can expect to see the hardened Test players step up over the next few weeks, and they really have to ahead of the All Blacks forthcoming three-Test series against France.

There's no doubt that during the season a few of the leading players have been slow to show their All Black qualities. A number have been hampered by injury, as well as the form of their own team, and a couple have failed to kick-start their own seasons.

Whatever the circumstance, now is the time they need to re-establish their All Black credentials. They were late starters but to give the public, the media, and more importantly, the All Blacks coaches confidence it's time to start putting their hands up.

With the first French Test three weeks away, and the first All Blacks side soon to be named, every player should be putting their best foot forward. There's no doubt the All Blacks coaches have great faith in their players. Steve Hansen has said this more than once, so we can expect to see the familiar faces of 2012 dominate the 2013 squad.

As always the interest in the squad named will be whether or not there has been enough of an impact made by some younger guys to be a part of that wider training group. One of the great strengths of the All Blacks in recent times has been the desire to blood new players, and although they may not get a starting opportunity against the French there should be room for some of the younger talent to get some exposure.

There are a few positions immediately up for debate and the two you would have to say at the forefront of everyone's mind, due to form and injury, are the hooker and the midfield. And of course, the huge hole Richie McCaw has left at openside flanker will mean someone has huge boots to fill. It's important to also acknowledge some outstanding form from some players in particular positions.

The form of the incumbent props and locks has been right up there. We have a number of options at blindside flanker and with the return of Dan Carter, from injury, our first five-eighth options are strong.

All Blacks sevens frustrated despite winning another overall title

It is an interesting situation with the All Blacks Sevens team right now, with the team being so consistent and obviously the strongest team at international level, but there will be a sense of frustration at its inability to win more tournaments. With two players out injured the side didn't seem to have that cutting edge to win in Glasgow. That raises some questions about whether the side has the necessary tools to win the big one - the World Cup.

Coach Gordon Tietjens has been forced to introduce some new players this year, and you get the feeling that a lack of experience hasn't been able to quite get them across the line. If there is one piece of the puzzle they appear to be missing, it is out and out speed - that ability to expose the opposition on the outside channel and when a clean line break is made to finish off the chance. There's no doubt New Zealand are the favourites going into next month's World Cup.

The challenge will be taking our game to the next level in the knockout stages of the tournament. The international sevens circuit has continued to improve, becoming more competitive and with the introduction of the chance to compete at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero in 2016, sevens rugby has well and truly adopted professionalism.

The World Cup of Sevens will give us our first glimpse in my mind of the importance of this game globally. The nearer we get to Rio the more desperate the emerging countries come to be a part of it. With the small number of teams competing at the Olympics, and the significant investment made in the game, sides will be desperate to perform. I certainly believe if the All Blacks Sevens team is going to win the gold in Rio it's going to need to recruit some of the XVs talent.

© ESPN Australia / New Zealand

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