Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Succession planning for McCaw shows in squad

Young Ardie Savea will also tag along as part of All Blacks 'apprentice' scheme.

Ardie Savea's naming as an 'apprentice' brings in another back-up to Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images
Ardie Savea's naming as an 'apprentice' brings in another back-up to Richie McCaw. Photo / Getty Images

For a decade, finding a backup to Richie McCaw seemed a redundant topic for the All Black selectors.

Usually the designated deputy was an all-purpose loosie, think Adam Thomson, Victor Vito, Rodney So'oialo or Chris Masoe. Sometimes specialists like Daniel Braid, Tanerau Latimer, Marty Holah and Matt Todd got a crack when the great man was hurt.

Last year the changes started and the succession plan began to take more shape. It was a concession as well from coach Steve Hansen and his All Black selectors that the skipper would need help if he was going to entertain ideas of making it through to the 2015 World Cup.

The panel settled on Sam Cane as the specialist apprentice openside and began to ease him into the All Black way. That selection, the tuition and Cane's ability continued against France this year when McCaw was on leave.

The 21-year-old's growing impact has prospered and when he was called up late to replace his damaged captain, Cane was a standout in Saturday's 41-33 victory against the Wallabies.

When a 36-strong touring squad was announced yesterday for the tour to Japan, France, England and Ireland, Frank Halai, Dominic Bird, Luke Whitelock and Joe Moody were the new picks.

Uncapped halfback TJ Perenara passed a medical test on the stress fracture in his foot to make the tour and Luke Romano was also passed fit after his groin muscle injury.

There was one shock with 20-year-old Wellington looseforward Ardie Savea named in a new "apprentice" scheme as a player the All Blacks would take on tour.

It would have been easy for the All Blacks to have left him at home with instructions to bulk up some more and then, like the cluster of promising young hookers they are monitoring, show his credentials in next year's Super 15.

Settling on Savea for this tour suggests the All Black selectors think he is easily the next best prospect behind Cane, he will be a test player soon and that after 120 tests, McCaw's endurance may be waning.

There is quality throughout the group who rollicked through their latest challenge with their third win this season against the Wallabies in Dunedin. That was the 10th straight win for the All Blacks, who will regroup on Friday in Auckland for a two-day camp, after visits to smaller towns.

Their form has been enterprising, physical and athletic in clumps of form this season and they have decided to take 27 players to Japan and send nine others to start their tour in France. Those choices will be finalised this week because a number will have to survive the ITM Cup final on Saturday before the squad leaves for Japan on Monday.

In such a large squad Ben Franks, Jeremy Thrush and Whitelock seem marginal picks but plenty of research, versatility, injury and hunches will have gone into their selection.

All of the touring group except Bird, who was injured, and the "apprentice" Savea have been training this season with the All Blacks. The side starts the tour against Japan on November 2 in Tokyo and finishes with a Monday morning (NZ time) test against Ireland on November 25.

All Black squad

Forwards: Dane Coles (Wellington), Andrew Hore (Taranaki), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury), Charlie Faumuina (Auckland), Ben Franks (Hawkes Bay), Owen Franks (Canterbury), Joe Moody* (Canterbury), Tony Woodcock (North Harbour), Dominic Bird* (Canterbury), Brodie Retallick (Bay of Plenty), Luke Romano (Canterbury), Jeremy Thrush (Wellington), Samuel Whitelock (Canterbury), Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty), Steven Luatua (Auckland), Richie McCaw (Canterbury), Liam Messam (Waikato), Kieran Read (Canterbury), Luke Whitelock* (Canterbury)

Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato), TJ Perenara* (Wellington), Aaron Smith (Manawatu), Beauden Barrett (Taranaki), Daniel Carter (Canterbury), Aaron Cruden (Manawatu), Tom Taylor (Canterbury), Ryan Crotty (Canterbury), Ma'a Nonu (Wellington), Francis Saili (North Harbour), Israel Dagg (Hawkes Bay), Frank Halai* (Counties Manukau), Cory Jane (Wellington), Charles Piutau (Auckland), Julian Savea (Wellington), Ben Smith (Otago).

- NZ Herald

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