Chris Rattue 's Opinion

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

Chris Rattue: Ranger deserves a chance

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Rene Ranger represents what New Zealand rugby should be about - dynamic, explosive power. Photo / Richard Robinson
Rene Ranger represents what New Zealand rugby should be about - dynamic, explosive power. Photo / Richard Robinson

A quarter of an hour watching Rene Ranger give no quarter was enough. He only made a couple of runs in the Eden Park test, but they stood out among the surrounding dross.

The fluffy-haired, one-man demolition act is more than good enough to start on a wing in the All Blacks, and fullback Israel Dagg is probably the bloke who should give way.

This is the moment for the All Black selectors to grasp a bull by the horns. Ranger needs a carrot to get out of a French club contract, so make that carrot irresistible.

Ranger has already hinted he needs an indication that Steve Hansen's regime values him highly, that he's not just a passing fancy, before forcing the issue with the French club. He's a unique player worth the effort.

I don't recall an outside back who is so physically destructive in so many ways. He ploughs through opponents, as he did to the spirited French fullback Yoann Huget, and relentlessly bumps off first defenders.

He tiptoes down sidelines - if that's an apt description for his thunderous running style - with the best of them. He smashes opponents in tackles, and the way he rips the ball away from opponents makes him among the best turnover merchants in the game. He'll do his bit in trying to hold players up in mauls. There is the odd rough edge, but few are perfect.

Ranger represents what New Zealand rugby should be about, dynamic, explosive power that is the All Blacks' advantage. When the ball gets to Ranger, the heart skips a beat. The Northlander has been through the mill a bit, sometimes of his own making, but at the age of 26 is perfectly poised to unleash his crunching style on the international game. What stands out is that under Sirs John Kirwan and Graham Henry at the Blues, he has done his utmost to set the tone on the field for a side that is rebuilding.

Dagg, sadly, has lost his instincts and swagger. He desperately searches for holes, rather than conjuring them up out of nowhere. Against France he knocked a reception on - although it went undetected - and threw a forward pass when a move was going nowhere. He was overshadowed by Ben Smith and Huget's zest for the game, although his punting is a decent weapon.

It's tempting to suggest Dagg needs a new Super 15 home, to re-start his career. The Crusaders' overly patterned ways - they continue to rely on lightweight backs and operate without a rampaging blindside flanker - may have knocked the stuffing out of Dagg.

First test wing Smith lacks Dagg's extreme gifts of deception, but has been so much sharper at fullback for the Highlanders this year. At some point, Super 15 form should mean something. Ranger's potential is too extreme not to fully test it out.

Blues ABs should be at Albany

The Baby Blues may sound cute but excuse me if I don't join the cooing noises.

It didn't have to be this way. All Black extended squad members Charles Piutau, Frances Saili and Steven Luatua - who weren't required for the first test - should be lining up with their mates against France at North Harbour Stadium in Albany tomorrow night instead of remaining in yet another (yawn) All Black camp.

Rugby gets away with this nonsense too often. England's World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward was dead right when he slammed Australian rugby for allowing the Western Force to put out a joke team against the touring Lions last week (point of order: Woodward brought a rubbish England side here in the late 1990s as part of his World Cup development plans).

Piutau, Saili and Luatua could have been named to play tomorrow night and then withdrawn if the All Blacks genuinely thought they would be required in the playing 23 for the second test in Christchurch. This is another example of All Black grandiosity ripping the heart out of the game.

Training camps are no substitute for playing - the trio would have thrived in an international fixture for the Blues. These are wonderful moments and opportunities for young players but unfortunately their careers are in the grip of old men with too many grand schemes in their heads. The fans are also being robbed.

Coach John Kirwan was quoted, indirectly, as saying there was no real pressure on the Blues and this was an opportunity to express themselves.

This is not the do-or-die attitude many of us were brought up on when provincial teams played touring sides. These games used to be so significant that South Africa awarded a Springbok head to the first provincial team to beat them on any tour.

The old days were the good old days in some ways.

- 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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