New Zealand Rugby
All Blacks could ditch back-ups
September 21, 2010
Graham Henry could shuffle his deck on tour © Getty Images
The All Blacks could embark on their November tour without added back-up at scrum-half and hooker as Graham Henry and his selectors evaluate their options for next year's Rugby World Cup.
With a squad of 30 to work with for the tour to Hong Kong and Europe, Henry is manoeuvring for extra room to test players in a tour environment prior to their tilt at the Webb Ellis Cup.
Traditionally a tour squad would contain three hookers and three scrum-halfs, but Henry is beginning to view the convention as limiting given the ever-dwindling time before the World Cup gets underway.
"It's just there's so many players that we think need an opportunity, taking three hookers and three halfbacks will decrease that possibility," he said. "[Prop] John Afoa can play hooker, that could come into the equation. Maybe there's another back in the squad who can play halfback at a pinch."
Henry remains open to the possibility of both Aaron Cruden and Colin Slade touring as understudies to fly-half Dan Carter, while Cruden was speculatively linked with the No.9 jersey prior to his Tri-Nations bow in July. Carter is on course to feature after beginning his recovery from ankle surgery. "We're hoping that he'll play a game before we go away," Henry said. "The ankle's good but it still needs a wee bit more manipulation - it's a wee bit stiff. He's very pleased with where it's at."
Auckland flanker Daniel Braid is another player with designs on a tour spot and back-up to skipper Richie McCaw has been one of the All Blacks' major shortcomings in recent seasons.
Alby Mathewson and Corey Flynn could be the players to miss the cut, with Flynn in particular danger should Taranaki's Andrew Hore prove his fitness with a run out against Wellington on October 16 - a day before the squad is announced. Waikato wing Sitiveni Sivivatu is also a possible tourist after shoulder surgery and could return to action a week before Hore.
"We're hopeful," Henry said. "Obviously they're both going to have to play a wee bit and they're on a tight schedule. But we're keeping close contact, our medical staff are doing the same and hopefully we'll get a positive result."