Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Time to say goodbye to Piri and Ali

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Piri Weepu in action for the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
Piri Weepu in action for the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

One of the problems with All Black selections is the perception of fairness.

That has been exacerbated in recent years when the selectors stuck with players they believed could do the job for them.

They did, and the country gave thanks that prowess held firm in late October when they were outplayed at Eden Park yet won the World Cup by a point.

That quadrennial cycle is over, the angst of 24 years has been quelled, the agonies and anxiety of five failures in between have been satisfied.

Now we move on, or do we? There's been a whiff new coach Steve Hansen will stick with World Cuppers still peddling their prowess in the Super 15, that he will cut some serious slack for Ali Williams and Piri Weepu to make the group.

We'll get more of an idea when Hansen, Ian Foster and Brian McLean hold two training camps, the first in Auckland in a fortnight and the next a week later in Wellington before the 30-man squad is revealed on June 3.

Hansen has defended Williams' subdued productivity as a reflection of the Blues' work and believes the lock will measure up if he is chosen in the All Blacks.

To my mind, Williams should have been leading the Blues through their tough times and Weepu should have done likewise if he was fit. Instead, both have slipped into the midst of the mediocrity instead of steering the side out of the mire.

If both are picked for the All Blacks with accompanying explanations about the need for their experience, that will signal a diversity in selection standards. It will do nothing for those who have played strongly throughout the Super 15, looking for international credit.

Hansen and his new selection team have talked about the demands on them this year and next, how they have to move the game forward, how they have to be evolving continuously and how the sport needs to connect with its congregation.

On all those counts they need to embrace experienced players who are still cutting it while also promoting new talent.

It is a balance, but if the building talent has been consistently superior to some of the incumbents, then the new breed should get the nod.

Williams may be fortunate that lock is not a position of great depth with Brad Thorn offshore and Anthony Boric injured, leaving Sam Whitelock as the best from the Cup squad. But there are seven others who offer more wide-ranging appeal than the 73-test veteran Williams.

Chiefs youngster Brodie Retallick has been in consistently good form and his weekend rest impacted strongly on the Chiefs. If he remains intact he must be included.

Former All Black Jason Eaton has shown revival signs and Tom Donnelly could also be considered for that taller lineout option.

The workhorse duties will fall to someone like Jarrad Hoeata, who had a taste last season and is finding his range once more after overcoming a chest injury, Craig Clarke, at the Chiefs, Luke Romano, of the Crusaders, or Josh Bekhuis.

Riches at halfback are mounting.

Andy Ellis, Weepu and Jimmy Cowan were the World Cup picks and Ellis has bounced to the top of that group this season.

Aaron Smith has been the best of the rising brigade with a wristy bullet pass which has not been seen since the days of Graeme Bachop and his game radar seems to be improving.

The Hurricanes TJ Perenara is a relentless coil of energy. At times he tries to do too much on his own and does not let the rest of his backline flourish but at least he is involved and his overall game is always penetrative. Perenara is a sharper version of Tawera Kerr-Barlow who brings the combative fire and involvement which has not been apparent with the slow-to-burn World Cuppers.

New players are not always the answer, not when their deeds are matched by All Blacks of some experience.

But when the old guard has gone to sleep and can't be roused, it's time to bring in the new guns.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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