Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: A spawning ground for quality backs

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The Wellington wind blows in yet another in a long list of talented and enterprising players - Cory Jane.

Cory Jane. Photo / Getty Images
Cory Jane. Photo / Getty Images

Cory Jane is my favourite All Black to watch at the moment, Dan Carter aside, and that is a very big aside.

Jane brings an amazing risk-free elan to the game. As a playmaking wing, he is arguably unique, although the little Aussie James O'Connor could be in the same league.

Until Jane turned up in yesterday morning's match against Italy, there wasn't a lot to rave about apart from the magnificent Olympic stadium itself, and the surprisingly stout Italian resistance and belligerence which, inevitably, fell away.

Before the game, looking at the All Blacks' lineup, I was struck by the amazing Wellington influence in the outside backs over the past four decades or so, the decades I've witnessed. There must be something in the Wellington wind.

In my case, it began by watching an amazing little fellow called Grant Batty, who stole the show on the All Blacks' old-style European tour in the early 1970s.

Bryan Williams had exploded on to the world scene in South Africa but on the subsequent long northern tour he struggled somewhat and was overshadowed by Batty's cheeky skill which, most memorably, brought a fabulous kick one way and run the other try against the Barbarians.

Then came the marvellous days of Stu Wilson and Bernie Fraser, supplemented by Allan Hewson. For many brought up on Don Clarke and Fergie McCormick, watching Hewson at fullback was like finding a pub that served only low-strength beer.

I well remember a day at Eden Park when the flyweight Hewson's appearance was met by scorn in the grandstands, but a couple of hours later he had set a world scoring record against Australia. Not that it helped his image all that much.

When it comes to producing quality and maverick outside backs, Wellington punches above its weight, which is something Christian Cullen - the finest fullback of all time in my opinion - always did.

Conrad Smith now rules at centre, carrying on from Tana Umaga. Julian Savea is the big comer, a wing with speed and power in the Jonah Lomu range, who is scoring tries at will.

And then there is Jane. He did the damage from fullback yesterday but rules the roost on the wing in the All Blacks' first string lineup. In a startling cameo in Rome, he began by looming up perfectly in support to dance and fend his way to the try line.

The moment that really caught the eye was the way he made space for Ma'a Nonu - another Wellingtonian - to feed Savea for a try. He also charged on to a pass - admittedly against tiring or dishevelled Italian defence - to give Savea a try on a plate while the rest of the game appeared to stand still.

Jane was a fabulous Super 15 player who many of us thought was a bit small and would struggle to make a test position his own. How wrong can you be?

What is it about Wellington though? This has to be more than coincidence. Having to operate on fewer resources, maybe the city is more prepared to have faith in enterprising characters who break the mould. Perhaps they are not overpowered, obliterated, in the junior grades. The big question is this: would Cory Jane have emerged had he lived in Auckland?

The Hurricanes are also the eye of a storm for magical backs. Beauden Barrett comes from those parts, as does tiny Aaron Cruden. And think on this - but for Canterbury's test-path pulling power, the Hurricanes would almost certainly have snared the brilliant Israel Dagg, who also comes from within their catchment area. Scary.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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