New Zealand v France, 3rd Test
Mixed emotions for Ranger
June 20, 2013
Rene Ranger has been impressive in the current series against France © Getty Images
Rene Ranger had mixed emotions when he heard his named called in the All Blacks starting line-up for Saturday's third and final Test against France in New Plymouth.
Having waited almost three years to be awarded just his second starting cap, he was dejected to learn that it could be his last. The 26-year-old has failed to get out of his a two-year contract with French Top 14 club Montpellier and will leave New Zealand at the end of the year.
"I'm finally heading off at the end of the year so it's exciting times," Ranger said of the deal he signed last December. "It has all been confirmed now."
Ranger's manager, Simon Porter, travelled to France last month to negotiate a possible payout, reported to be around NZ$300,000 which would have allowed the Blues centre to remain in the country.
Although he will play a role during the Rugby Championship, his imminent departure means he will not figure in plans for the 2015 IRB Rugby World Cup.
If he does decide to return at the conclusion of his stint in France he will be close to the age of 30 and may not be considered for another campaign in the black jersey.
It leaves All Blacks coach Steve Hansen in a difficult position to find a back-up for veteran centre Conrad Smith, who will become part of the second most-capped All Blacks midfield combination when he lines up outside Ma'a Nonu on Saturday. The pair has played 45 Tests together.
"It's unfortunate," Hansen said of Ranger's departure. "He's had a pretty good season at 'thirteen' himself."
Ranger has reached career-best form under the direction of Sir John Kirwan at the Blues and would have been the perfect solution to Hansen's midfield dilemma.
With battle-hardened centres Richard Kahui and Tamati Ellison also confirming their departure for the lucrative Japanese club scene, the All Blacks' stocks at the troublesome position are wearing thin. Highlanders utility Ben Smith is the next logical choice but is thought to be most effective at fullback where he has played during this year's Super Rugby season.
Uncapped Blues midfielder Francis Saili is another possibility, but will need time in the saddle before a call can be made on his suitability.
To further complicate the situation, Hansen revealed that Smith's form on the wing during the first two Tests against France, which the All Blacks won to wrap up the series and retain the Dave Gallaher trophy, has forced him to re-think plans of a long-term transition into the midfield.
"We thought about playing Ben [Smith] at centre but he's been playing particularly well on the wing so we didn't want to change too much," Hansen said. "We just didn't want to burden him with a positional change at this stage. We want him to go back out and have another really good game."
However, Hansen did not rule out trying Smith at centre during the end-of-year tour to Europe, as he did during last year's win against Scotland, and may request that he spend time there during the remainder of the Super Rugby season.
"There are options," Hansen said. "We just don't need to panic too much."