Richard Loe 's Opinion

Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Loe: Holes, hooker, line and centre

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Kahui's off to Japan too but the noises that came from Steve Hansen's quarters suggest this departure is not viewed so favourably. Photo / Getty Images
Kahui's off to Japan too but the noises that came from Steve Hansen's quarters suggest this departure is not viewed so favourably. Photo / Getty Images

The most intriguing All Black selection decision for the June tests against France will be whether Richard Kahui is treated like Sonny Bill Williams.

We all remember that the All Blacks wanted Sonny Bill to play for them, even though he was heading elsewhere. Kahui's off to Japan too but the noises that came from Steve Hansen's quarters suggest this departure is not viewed so favourably.

But, if you take form into account (and I always do), you'd have to say that Kahui is the top centre around at the moment.

If anything happened to Conrad Smith, surely they'd have to play Kahui. But I think they will go for the Ma'a Nonu-Smith pairing in the midfield, with the bench the best Kahui can hope for. However, I don't agree with that.

I know the All Blacks will be confident they can get Nonu back into camp and get the best out of him but I think this has so far been the worst of his last three Super Rugby seasons.

He just doesn't seem to have any rhythm or balance about him; maybe it's having only one eyebrow ...

I'd rather see Aaron Cruden play at 10 and Dan Carter at 12 against France. I don't think they'll do that but I think they should.

The other real dilemma is at hooker. Keven Mealamu is really going to have to show some very smart form when he comes back and Andrew Hore hasn't shown anything approaching form yet. For my money, they should play both the younger guys - Hika Elliot and Dane Coles - against France to try them out in that tough environment. None of the rest of the crop of hookers look All Black material yet and Corey Flynn has an eye injury.

In the front row, it's pretty clear to me that Owen Franks and Wyatt Crockett probably have the best form but they may play an older hand, like Tony Woodcock (even though he hasn't shown much form either) instead of Crockett - especially if they play a rookie hooker or two.

The locks pick themselves - Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano, with Dominic Bird backing up there if they want him to see the internal workings of an All Black squad.

In the loose forwards, Sam Cane will get the nod for Richie's position, though Matt Todd is pressing hard and Luke Braid of the Blues would not disgrace an All Black jersey either. Victor Vito, Liam Messam and maybe Brad Shields could also be brought in for experience and it's difficult to know how bad Kieran Read's injury is right now. Steven Luatua of the Blues is not ready yet.

At halfback, Aaron Smith has had an awful time with the Highlanders pack. Talk about an armchair ride - his armchair is busted. But he'll get the nod along with, I believe, the Hurricanes' TJ Perenara, who is a real game-breaker. Carter and Cruden will probably look after 10 and Hosea Gear and Julian Savea look the shots for the wings, with an honorable mention to the in-form Lelia Masaga (who's also off overseas and won't be selected) and the Blues' Frank Halai. Israel Dagg will be the man at fullback, though Ben Smith will be in there too, as he can cover wing and fullback and I know they also like him at centre.

To me, that's how the form book looks so far - and it's not a totally convincing look. Question marks in the front row, at 7 and the midfield mean the All Blacks will be going some to be cohesive against the French.

- Herald on Sunday

Richard Loe

Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Wyllie Loe was a renowned All Black forward prop who plied his trade for the New Zealand national team between 1987 and 1995. Loe was well known by fans and team mates alike as an ‘enforcer’ on the pitch, a player who balanced his abilities with the ball with a tough-tackling prowess and a penchant for physicality. During an outstanding career Richard Loe represented his country of birth in no less than three World Cups, assisting the All Blacks to a famous victory in 1987. Along with fellow team mate and captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Loe formed one of the most formidable forward lines ever to lead the All Blacks. Despite his sometimes overly physical dominance on the pitch, Loe is regarded by former team mates as being an exceptional character and professional. Following retirement from rugby Loe became a sport columnist for the New Zealand Herald, a position he still holds today.

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