By Alan Dymock
THERE IS not quite a revolving door with the All Blacks, but there are certainly a few international stars spinning right round, baby, right round in the build up to the Rugby Championship.
There is no waiting around for the big clashes in the competition as Australia and New Zealand contest the Bledisloe Cup in Sydney on August 17, with new Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie set for a baptism of fire. However, while New Zealand are favourites to win the whole thing, they may do so without a few familiar names. Rugby aside, this could also affect their Haka.
Piri Weepu, the rugby-players rugby player, normally leads the All Black battle cry before kick-off, but the 71-cap scrum-half has been omitted in favour of promoting young bucks TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
The move is one which should not be argued with. The Kiwi isles are blessed with a great depth of talent and inter-squad competition is part of what keeps New Zealand ahead of the rest of world rugby. Weepu has fallen in stature of late, with many assuming that the half-back’s value as a back-up kicker was all that saw his name jotted down on squad lists. There is enough zip and guile in the trio of nines brought in to the squad to justify leaving out Weepu. However, for those fond of the aesthetic and familiar, there is now a gap at the front of the Haka.
As a leading light in the Super Rugby winning Waikato Chiefs side, Liam Messam is a stand out choice. Would he be as bombastic and animated as Weepu was? Perhaps, but at the very least we can all accept that he is a fearsome player and unquestionably one of the best back rowers on the planet.
Andrew Hore is another name that has been mentioned in passing, but there may be no ring of truth to this one…
Pre-game challenge, aside, there will also be no Rene Ranger for the All Blacks after the pin-ball centre pulled himself out of the squad for “family reasons.” He is off to Montpellier shortly and did not want to commit to the Rugby Championship. Coach Steve Hansen has begrudgingly accepted Ranger’s decision.
The All Blacks, it seems, are happy to secede on minor points like the Haka and fringe selections because they truly believe that they will get their consistency on the pitch and that anyone coming in as back-up is still better than in those teams they will play in the Championship. And who is to argue with their logic?
Of course, when you have Dan Carter at stand-off and Richie McCaw returning from a sabbatical – having played a measly 25 minutes of Super Rugby for the Canterbury Crusaders during their playoff bouts – it is easy to see why the likes of Weepu and Ranger will not be missed. Carter, McCaw, Messam and Kieran Read should be more than enough to lead the Haka and then the team to the lip of victory.
After this, the question is whether or not this group will be so dominant that the All Blacks will see their way past South Africa as well as Argentina and a rejuvenated Wallaby side.
In other news, Steve Hansen has thrown cold water over those saying that soon-to-be converted league star Benji Marshall will walk into the All Blacks squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. “He’s a world-class rugby league player and a world-class athlete,” Hansen said, “so to have someone like that who wants to be an All Black is great.”
However he could not be drawn on the playmakers chances having not seen him play union, stating: “I can’t [talk of his All Black chances], because I don’t have any information to back it up, other than what I’ve seen.”