Craig Dowd
Time for All Blacks contenders to stand up
Craig Dowd
April 8, 2014
Beauden Barrett beats the tackle of Willie le Roux, Hurricanes v Cheetahs, Super Rugby, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, March 15, 2014
Beauden Barrett needs to prove his World Cup credentials to selectors © Getty Images

With around 18 months to go until the next Rugby World Cup, it is time for players who want to be part of the All Blacks' trophy defence start to make their cases.

Traditionally in the year ahead of a World Cup year, New Zealand teams haven't performed well in Super Rugby and we are in that position where guys really need to be putting their hands up.

If you were an All Blacks selector 18 months from a World Cup you would be starting to pencil down who is, or who isn't, going to be there. Now is the time for those players who want to be contenders to start performing.

A classic example is Hurricanes fly-half Beauden Barrett, who, in the absence of Aaron Cruden through injury over the next month or so, has the chance to push his case for greater recognition. As it stands today, Barrett is No.1 in New Zealand in the position. It is time to really knuckle down and prove that to the selectors.

Over the past 12 months we have seen that there is not a shortage of No. 10s in New Zealand. Tom Taylor got a Test cap last year and I think the Highlanders fly-half Lima Sopoaga is playing some really good rugby at the moment. He's been "that other guy" when he made the NZ Under-20s with Gareth Anscombe and Barrett, but he's shown with a good run of form that he is also a class act.

And you think back to the ITM Cup last year and Hawke's Bay fly-half Ihaia West would not look out of place in a team like the Blues. He trained with the Chiefs this year but played for the Hurricanes' development side last weekend.

We're in a real pickle around the hooking position. Keven Mealamu hasn't fronted and as much as he has the desire to get there, at the moment his body is not letting him. So there is pretty much a clear run for any decent hooker who wants to put his hand up.

If Dane Coles wants to take advantage of the head start he has been given in the succession plan, he really needs to lift his game to a whole new level to say to the selectors 'I'm your man'. And that level is probably a level he hasn't gone to before. By doing that he would put the next guy in line a long way behind him. That's the mark of an All Blacks player who wants to become a Test great. That is the sort of intensity you have to show.

Scrum-half is another one. I think Aaron Smith is clearly the No. 1 but we need a No.2 and No.3. And at the moment you would have to say Andy Ellis still heads the contenders at No.2.

Centre, behind Conrad Smith, is another position, and traditionally for some reason, we have had an issue with centres at World Cups. But I like the look of Malakai Fekitoa and I think if he got in the right environment at 21 years of age his potential is outstanding. He is not only performing for the Highlanders, he is standing out.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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