The All Blacks squad for the upcoming series against France has been named and on paper, the team appears to be a good one, with a nice balance of experience v new blood. It is hard to not notice however, that Super XV form seems to only have been taken into consideration in SOME circumstances. One has to wonder if this type of double standard is fair, and also whether or not it is going to damage the All Blacks team of 2013.
Take for instance, Keven Mealamu, the All Blacks (102 caps) and Blues (total of 150 super rugby caps) veteran hooker. After taking a mini-sabbatical and missing the start of the 2013 Super XV, he has had only three starts for the franchise, and has come off the bench four times. Yes, he has performed in the past, but how can the All Black selectors feel they have seen enough of him, considering his lack of game time? If it weren’t for a hooker shortage in New Zealand (go on, laugh… I know that is where your minds all went…) then I think ‘Kevvy’ would be out of a job as far as the All Blacks go. How a guy with 7 total caps for the 2013 season was an automatic entrant, when Crusaders hooker, (ex All Black) Corey Flynn who is having one of his best seasons, didn’t even get a look in for the wider training squad, I really do not know. Something is wrong there.
Another case of past experience winning out over current form, is that of Ma’a Nonu. To date he has had 8 starts for the Highlanders, and has been on the bench once. AND WAS RECENTLY DROPPED FROM THE 22 ALTOGETHER. Yes, he was out injured for a few weeks, but I think it says something very clear when the Highlanders TWO wins this entire season, have been when Ma’a Nonu was not in the team, and when he came off the bench late in the second half. But no. Again quality players like Crusaders #12, Ryan Crotty – who has also been on fire this season – miss out on even making the wider training squad.
Crusaders fullback, Israel Dagg, is another example of this. It has been blatantly obvious that his form this season is not up to scratch, even the Crusaders coach has noted this in the media. Yes. The past couple of weeks he has been performing better – probably due to the fact he got dropped to the bench TWICE because of poor performance – but seeing him getting named must seem like an insult to other outside backs who have been CONSISTENTLY performing this season.
CONSISTENCY. That word seems to not mean a lot to Steve Hansen and co.
Long story short – if a Super franchise feels a player is underperforming – what right does that player have to be wearing that famous black jersey, over someone who has been performing well week in, week out?
It seems especially strange that the TWO players this season who have been playing their asses off and have been quite possibly the two standout New Zealand players, had to struggle to get into the squad. Well, one had to struggle. The other didn’t even get in.
In the case of Matt Todd (Crusaders #7), he was lucky enough to finally be given the credit he deserves, and was named in the All Blacks squad. But only as injury cover. Matt Todd has probably had three times as much game-time as Sam Cane this season (Sam Cane being another who has struggled to consistently make the starting 15). Ever since Hansen named his wider training squad – and there was a glaring lack of specialist number 7’s in the squad – the media and rugby fans alike have been walking around looking dazed and confused. ONE specialist number 7? Seriously, Steve?
Almost all articles published about the wider training squad mentioned this lack of specialist number 7’s. So finally, on the eve of naming the squad, Steve and the powers that be decided “hey – why not have another number 7 in the team?”. I must say, this reminded me of when a woman suggests something, only to have the idea dismissed by her ‘better’ half, and a few weeks later that same man comes up with the same idea, and acts as if he is a genius. So Matt Todd, who hadn’t been part of the wider training squad, was suddenly into the squad for the French series. Blues #7, Luke Braid must feel hard done by. Like Todd, Braid has had a wonderful season and has performed… you guessed it, CONSISTENTLY. And like Todd, has also outplayed Sam Cane – who was THE dead-cert #7 for the series – obviously consistency isn’t a word the coaches worry about with Sam Cane either.
Yes. Sam Cane is the player who is likely to eventually take over when Richie McCaw retires – but shouldn’t he be forced to EARN his spot in the team – just like everyone else should?
In all, there were 6 new caps named for the All Blacks series against the French – and that tells me that those 6 players are likely the players who have performed the most consistently in the Super XV. They are the players who had to work the hardest to get into the squad, but are also the players who most deserve to be there. Who are these consistent, hard working six?
Blues: Charles Piutau, Francis Saili and Steven Luatua
Chiefs: Ben Afeaki
Hurricanes: Jeremy Thrush (called in at the last minute in place of Dominic Bird of the Crusaders, who was injured in Friday nights game)
Crusaders: Matt Todd
I only hope that this new wave of All Blacks don’t get into the mindset of most current All Blacks, and think that SuperXV is something they do to waste time until they have a black jersey thrown at them every June.
All Blacks squad for the Steinlager Series, v France
Dane Coles (Hurricanes)
Andrew Hore (Highlanders)
Keven Mealamu (Blues)
Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders)
Ben Afeaki (Chiefs)
Ben Franks (Hurricanes)
Owen Franks (Crusaders)
Tony Woodcock (Highlanders)
Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
Luke Romano (Crusaders)
Jeremy Thrush (Hurricanes)
Sam Whitelock (Crusaders) (*** injured finger, unlikely to play until 3rd test)
Sam Cane (Chiefs)
Steven Luatua (Blues)
Liam Messam (Chiefs)
Kieran Read (Crusaders) (captain)
Victor Vito (Hurricanes)
Matt Todd (Crusaders)
Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs)
Aaron Smith (Highlanders)
Piri Weepu (Blues) (*** concussed last week, likely to miss 1st test)
Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes)
Dan Carter (Crusaders) (*** cracked bone in hand, unlikely to play)
Aaron Cruden (Chiefs)
Ma’a Nonu (Highlanders)
Francis Saili (Blues)
Conrad Smith (Hurricanes)
Rene Ranger (Blues)
Israel Dagg (Crusaders)
Charles Piutau (Blues)
Julian Savea (Hurricanes)
Ben Smith (Highlanders)
The All Blacks play three tests against the French
- June 8 in Auckland (Eden Park)
- June 15 in Christchurch (new AMI Stadium)
- June 22 in New Plymouth (Yarrow Stadium) (yours truly shall be in the crowd!)