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

Richard Loe: End of year tour a perfect opportunity to test exciting squad depth

Frank Halai. Photo / Greg Bowker
Frank Halai. Photo / Greg Bowker

You'd hope the All Black selectors will give youth a chance on the upcoming tour of Europe - and not just in the test against Japan.

The selection of 36 players with five new boys (Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Luke Whitelock, TJ Perenara, and Frank Halai) plus a few others who haven't been played much (Jeremy Thrush, Tom Taylor, Ryan Crotty, Francis Saili, Steven Luatua and even Charles Piuatu) means there is a fair bit of blooding to be done while trying to preserve their unbeaten record this year.

The All Blacks got ambushed by England last year and, while coach Steve Hansen will want his first team for that one, he will also want to continue building the great depth that we can all see in the All Blacks. No one uses that dirty word "rotation" any more these days - but it is still happening plenty.

The difference is that the All Blacks have achieved it without any discernible loss of quality.

No Dan Carter? Take your pick - Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett or Tom Taylor. Cory Jane injured? No big deal - here's Ben Smith, now the form winger in the world. No Richie McCaw? Stand up, Sam Cane. Jane injured on his comeback? Piutau did a great job.

It goes on and on; these All Blacks have strengthened their ranks to a point where many of them are interchangeable with no loss of impact. Having said that, if they want this to continue, they have to give the inexperienced guys more of a go on this tour. The obvious place is at hooker where you'd hope Dane Coles gets a lot of game time ahead of the older two. He's had a reasonable first season but needs some prolonged game time now or he'll end up a bit like Ben Franks.

He's had a lot of tests - 29 - but, in terms of minutes played, he's played bugger-all. Coles could end up like that and, if he is to secure a place through to the next World Cup, he'll be hungry to show what he can do with prolonged exposure to test rugby.

I like the way he plays - he gets stuck in and works away - but there are a lot of young hookers who will be pushing him hard next year.

Ben Franks could be on one of his last All Black gigs and it will be interesting to see how much the selectors use new prop Joe Moody. I'd also suggest Charlie Faumuina has done enough, particularly in the ball contesting and turnover stakes, to justify game time ahead of Owen Franks.

At lock, Luke Romano won't come right until two games in so you wonder how much they will use Bird and Thrush (some obvious jokes are likely to crop up if they are selected together ... ). Bird is big and combative and it would be interesting to see how he copes with the pace and intensity of test rugby. While Thrush has done well enough, I don't think he is of the quality of Romano, Brodie Retallick or Sam Whitelock.

In the loose forwards, where and how often they play Steven Luatua will be interesting as will the game time Luke Whitelock gets. If you were to play Cane, Luatua and Whitelock together, I suspect you would miss out on a lot of the grunt work that McCaw, Liam Messam and Kieran Read get through.

In the backs, the most interesting question is over Carter. He's on sabbatical after this and it will be a a question of balance to get him back playing close to his best and giving Cruden and Barrett time as they will be running the ship next year.

The other two are coming on fast and Carter will not want to go on sabbatical and be forgotten. Don't worry - it can happen and happen quickly.

Ben Smith should stay at centre but there might be movement at 12. Crotty is almost as physical as Ma'a Nonu and the selectors are keen on developing Saili as a 12, so there could be good game time for them.

- Herald on Sunday

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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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