Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Dynamo shows don't dream it's over

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Rene Ranger has been in scintillating form off the bench. Photo / Richard Robinson
Rene Ranger has been in scintillating form off the bench. Photo / Richard Robinson

Rene Ranger's showings off the bench will be greatly pleasing All Black management - and not just for selection reasons.

His form is lighting up a big neon sign with a message to those All Blacks and All Black hopefuls who look overseas if they feel their name is not figuring in the selectors' notebooks. The message reads: Don't sign too soon.

Reports surfaced after Ranger signed a three-year deal with French club Montpellier, thought to be worth more than $1 million, that the Blues winger wanted out of his contract after the All Blacks showed renewed interest in him. It's a moot point whether there was ever any validity in those reports. Ranger was always going to have to fork out to wriggle out of the contract - some reports have it as much as $500,000.

Oddly enough, the NZRU weren't interested in paying it for him. As if they would. That would create an enormously difficult and expensive precedent. The possibility must then be entertained that Ranger's attempts to remain in New Zealand were also a way of softening the blow and making his decision to jump ship seem not quite so daft.

By any measure, New Zealand is short of top-class wingers at present. Cory Jane is still injured, Julian Savea has been out of form (possibly because of the toll his court appearances are taking), Zac Guildford has slid out of All Black calculations, Richard Kahui is heading overseas before his propensity for injury prevents him from doing so, Hosea Gear has signed for Toulouse, the Chiefs' Lelia Masaga is heading overseas, and hot prospect Alapati Leiua was interesting the All Black selectors before electing to represent Samoa.

That is a list (albeit some of whom may not have been transparent to Ranger before making his decision) which would suggest to most observers that a decent winger might have a fine chance of making it into the All Blacks this year - even before Ben Smith's showings there. There have been calls for fullback Israel Dagg to be benched for Smith to start at fullback and Ranger taking over on the wing. Ranger also made a decent fist of centre for the Blues this year, adding to feelings that his value to the national selectors might increase if anything happened to Conrad Smith.

There are - and always will be - hot prospects at wing in New Zealand. Like the Blues' Frank Halai. The 26-year-old Ranger's decision was most probably to do with the money and his feelings about likelihood of selection in the future.

All Black coach Steve Hansen said of Ranger's efforts last week: "He's a dynamo when he comes off the bench and that's what you want from your bench players. You want world-class substitutes. He touched the ball twice last week yet everyone is talking about how great he was so that tells you what an impact he had ... again, we were captured by that because he came out with intent and purpose and lots of energy. If you wrote a job description for a substitute all those words would be in it."

Hansen could also have added that Ranger was fulfilling another important function - a living, breathing example of what happens if you pick up the pen too quickly.

- Herald on Sunday

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