Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Past glory shouldn't open the test door

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Sorry, Steve, I beg to differ. Not for the first time, and it won't be the last as you begin your stretch as All Blacks head honcho.

From the time you start to soak up some of the nuances of the national game - that's rugby for those of you who remain confused - you learn certain things about the All Blacks.

You understand they're consistently the best team on the planet and that it's harder to get into that special club than be jettisoned.

Steve Hansen offered a variation on that theme when he spoke about the opening squad he and his new panel will reveal in a few weeks. They were backing All Blacks with little Super 15 form; they wanted their experience for the start of the international season against Ireland in June.

It was a signal that no matter their form, Blues players like Keven Mealamu, Ali Williams, Piri Weepu and Ma'a Nonu would be getting a test squad tick.

Hansen and his cronies will back their judgment, their knowledge of that quartet and their belief they can improve the players' form in camp.

Fair call, it's their team. But I believe we've missed a selection trick or five since the game turned professional and the collective players' agreement was ratified.

There was a definite need for the players to have an upgrade in their conditions and salary structures in their limited careers. However, it seems there are also tacit clauses that players will get better selection deals once they have worn black.

For rugby followers that doesn't seem fair. It doesn't seem appropriate when stacks of excuses are wheeled out about why form Super 15 players are rejected and old faces reselected.

Coaches risk their reputations if they pick players who cannot do the business. They back their instincts.

But if All Blacks know they can meander through the Super 15 and still get the selection tick and pay cheque, what message does that send to those doing the business throughout the competition?

What's the point in a newer player performing superbly throughout the Super 15, knowing he will miss out on the test squad to a more "credentialled" player who has hardly broken out of first gear?

Some apologists mention that the Super 15 is a long series and players need to pace themselves.

How would teams and their supporters feel if everyone took that attitude?

Shorten the series or demand equal standards from those aiming for the next acclamation at test level.

However, Hansen does not appear to be heading down that route. Younger talent would not get a look in ahead of more test-hardened men.

He accepts he has an ageing All Black squad and wants to enlarge that group to accommodate the veterans and the promising youth.

How about shrinking the group, rewarding form players with test selection and sending the rest back to the ITM Cup to find some form.

Then we'll see if they still have the appetite for the national game.

- 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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