New Zealand
Brad Weber, Codie Taylor could be on RWC plane
Craig Dowd
April 29, 2015
Codie Taylor has stepped up from ITM Cup level in 2014, and Craig Dowd likes "the cut of his jib" © Getty Images
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Selectors can't afford to stand still so even while they are focused on the Rugby World Cup this year they know they are going to lose a core of experience for next year and they need to be aware of their potential options. That takes on even more importance given the British & Irish Lions will be touring in 2017, New Zealand rugby's 125th year of existence. So this season provides a golden opportunity for players to be stating their cases.

One of those who impressed me as the Crusaders went about doing what they needed to against the Blues on Saturday was their young hooker, Codie Taylor. He's been growing throughout the season and with the ball in hand he looks really dangerous. He loves getting his hands on the ball and he makes a few breaks every now, and then and he scored a good try at the weekend.

Put tight forwards in the right environment and you can manufacture really good players so long as they are the piece of clay you need to mould. Look at someone like Dane Coles to see what I mean. Coles was put in the All Blacks' environment probably a little early because he was the best we had, and all we had, but he's developed and thrived. Taylor is good enough, big enough, strong enough and has good skills to follow Coles' lead, and he has shown in that Crusaders environment that his set piece is solid and probably improving day to day. He's working with a couple of All Blacks locks and beside two All Blacks props, and they will no doubt be putting pressure on him to make sure he hits his target. He's the sort of player who will only get better when he is tested in a really tense environment, and around the field he is starting to shine.

It has to be said that the hooking stocks that looked very low 12 months ago, are looking much better. There is now some stiff competition around at hooker. Hika Elliot has gone well with the Chiefs, Ash Dixon has done really well down at the Highlanders, and James Parsons is putting his hand up with the Blues. But I think there is something about this guy Taylor. He's young, 24, and I just like the cut of his jib.

The Crusaders' Jordan Taufua crashes into the Lions' Elton Jantjies, Crusaders v Lions, Super Rugby, AMI Stadium, Christchurch, on March 14, 2015
Jordan Taufua is starting despite the presence at the Crusaders of Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Matt Todd © Getty Images
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It's worth noting too that Jordan Taufua has certainly taken his chances with the Crusaders. Is he at his peak plateau in Super Rugby? He is a competitive player. He has stepped up and played really well. He has got some speed and he loves the open, running rugby, and he is up against some tough competition for a place in the side with Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Matt Todd. But he has been getting the starts and has gone really well.

Ardie Savea of the Hurricanes is another to catch the eye. He's a natural talent and, like his older brother, he has got that X factor about him. He's lightning quick, he's strong, he's abrasive, and he loves getting his hands on the ball. He has hinted that he will look to play Sevens next year, but he needs to think carefully because I think anyone who takes that option will suffer. No-one is going to wait around and hold a position for those players. Those who step away can't expect to waltz back into the All Blacks. And I guess that was why Aaron Cruden made his call to stick with XVs because he had been waiting so long for Dan Carter to move on.

Players need to sit down and go through the process before they set out on the Sevens because they are going to a completely different game. On Sevens, I dislike the comparison between the format and XVs; they are two separate games. I realise that comes from a concrete mixer like myself who never really got involved in Sevens, but it is one of those games that sits out there and I would like to see the officials divide the two. I hate the way you can get a cap for Sevens and no longer be eligible for XVs selection for another country.

Craig Dowd hopes Ardie Savea forgoes Sevens to press his XVs claims © Getty Images
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Brad Weber could push for the third spot in the All Blacks' World Cup squad © Getty Images
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Brad Weber is another player who has really impressed me; he is going from strength to strength in that Chiefs environment, and he is a player who has a big future ahead of him. A couple of weeks ago when I was going through the halfback positions for the World Cup squad, I would probably have had Andy Ellis as the third No.9; not I'm not so sure; Weber is similar to an Andy Ellis-style of player, but his speed and clearance of the ball, and the accuracy around what he does, is impressive. He is also keeping Augustine Pulu on the bench regularly, and that is a statement of the faith the Chiefs have in this guy. He also seems to have a good off-field balance, and is clearly a young man who knows what he wants; he could yet be pushing for that third spot in the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup squad.

The Highlanders' Patrick Osborne gets a hug following a five-pointer, Highlanders v Waratahs, Dunedin, March 14, 2015
Patrick Osborne: Fiji or New Zealand? © Getty Images
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Patrick Osborne is another player the selectors have to have their eye on. He's played consistently well for the Highlanders this year. The Highlanders' back three have been brilliant but he's dangerous and wherever, and whoever, he chooses to play for will secure a top player. Fiji will certainly have their eye on him, as they would do, and he may have a tough decision to make soon. And unfortunately the way the rules are, if he chooses to play international rugby for Fiji it makes it harder for Super Rugby selection because of the New Zealand criteria. In saying that, however, he is good enough and I think he will carry on much like Waisake Naholo and Nemani Nadolo.

We do have an abundance of midfielders in New Zealand, but Charlie Ngatai has been impressive for the Chiefs this year. He's got some good players around him, but in pairing up so well with Sonny Bill Williams he has shown a lot of maturity; and with his captaincy of Taranaki and the Maori All Blacks, he is another who looks to have the off-field drive and balance. He plays at 100% week in and week out. His incisions are accurate, and that is the key because you can read whenever there is any indecisiveness. He's the sort of player who comes across as confident and he is doing really well.

I would be keeping a very close eye on him, especially with Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith vacating their positions next year. It looks like he's got a big future ahead of him.

Every X-factor player needs a well-balanced player alongside him, and to me he is like Conrad Smith. You have X-factor players like Nonu or Malakai Fekitoa and by having a well-balanced player alongside them it creates things. Whereas when you put two X factor players together they both want the ball and the team can get a little flighty.

Charlie Ngatai is a very well-balanced player who allows X-factor stars to shine © Getty Images
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