New Zealand Rugby
All Black hopefuls gear up for Waitakere trial match
October 21, 2008
All Black hopefuls Tanerau Latimer (L) and Scott Waldrom (R) will go head to head in the Waitakere trial match © Getty Images
Richie McCaw's potential understudies audition for a role on the All Blacks end-of-year tour tomorrow, as aspiring Blues seek to impress new coach Pat Lam.
The Waitakere trial match -- the end point of a four-day camp for the All Blacks wider training group -- is designed to give tour certainties outside of Canterbury and Wellington an opportunity to get back up to speed.
It also provides the perfect platform for loose forwards Tanerau Latimer or Scott Waldrom. The specialist opensides are locked in a duel to back-up McCaw on the six-match tour, which starts with the fourth Bledisloe Cup test against the Wallabies in Hong Kong next Saturday.
A Grand Slam attempt follows with tests in successive weekends against Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England while a midweek fixture against Heineken Cup champions Munster is set down for Limerick on November 18.
Latimer and Waldrom were named in a 25-strong group on Sunday but will oppose each other when the All Blacks take on a New Zealand Barbarians selection. One will be loaned to Lam so the All Black coaching panel can weight up their respective merits.
The Barbarians are effectively a Blues trial combination of Auckland, North Harbour and Northland players but there is an obvious gap at openside, with Daniel Braid headed for Queensland while Onosai'i Auva'a is still suffering from a head knock sustained in the New Zealand Cup final round loss to Northland.
Lam will use 30 players, including New Zealand Warriors centre Ryan Shortland who is interested in switching codes . Jimmy Gopperth, now a North Harbour player, will start at first five eighth against Daniel Carter, who joined the training group yesterday for what will be his first game since the Tri-Nations decider in Brisbane six weeks ago.
Ideally he will play the bulk of the 80 minutes in what is his only hit out before the tour opener. Carter's back-up Stephen Donald trained lightly today as he continues to nurse a rib injury and will not be involved tomorrow.
The All Blacks have called in Auckland's Grayson Hart as cover for Jimmy Cowan, the only halfback in the All Blacks group. Auckland's first choice halfback Taniela Moa, who was part of the All Blacks scene during the Tri-Nations after Andy Ellis was injured, had surgery on an ankle last week and faces about a month of rehab.
With Ellis suffering a knee injury that risks him missing the Air NZ Cup final against Wellington on Saturday night, Wellington halfback Alby Mathewson could have everything to play for at Westpac Stadium.
A decision on Ellis' fitness was expected on Thursday. The All Blacks have also brought in Crusaders-bound Northland prop Bronson Murray to cure a temporary propping shortage.
Meanwhile, fullback Mils Muliaina could be unavailable for the Hong Kong leg, given his wife is expecting their first child. The 35-man tour party leaves New Zealand on Monday night but Muliaina will not travel until the baby is born.
All Black assistant coach Wayne Smith said it was still debatable whether the 66-test veteran would make it to Hong Kong in time. Muliaina's potential unavailability is a further blow after Leon MacDonald was ruled out of the tour with ongoing concussion issues. The selectors have several options -- including a specialist back-up fullback option on tour, possibly Wellington's Cory Jane or using utility Isaia Toeava.