Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Selectors check old and new talent as test season nears

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The All Blacks. Photo / NZ Herald
The All Blacks. Photo / NZ Herald

Abandon the pub chat and barbecue dialogue and step into the All Black selectors' discussion.

That trio have been watching the opening Super 15 skirmishes but more as an exercise to get back into the groove after their recess.

Head honcho Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox have plans for the June series with England and the season beyond after studying their work with the All Blacks last year and analysing how they can all improve.

That structure will frame their focus on the Super 15 and judgments about how experienced players are performing and what young talent is rising to the top.

Many of the senior players have been in sluggish form or yet to hit the track although there have been notable exceptions like Aaron Cruden and Sam Whitelock.

Punters and the media will use form and arguments about equal opportunity for their choices while the All Black selectors use a much broader canvas. They will give proven test players time and then trust their skills to get them into test-match shape.

As Fox said, the selectors were concerned if test players were not enjoying their work because of individual and team problems but were not worried about any consequences for the June test series and beyond.

Form was an important factor which involved information about players' history with the All Blacks and ability to cope with test rugby, their Super 15 form and what style the side wanted to play this year.

If history is a guide, there will be chances for new players to make the initial All Black squad for the three tests with England in June. A year ago, injury removed Cory Jane and Charlie Faumuina, interrupted the introduction of Sam Whitelock and Daniel Carter while Richie McCaw was on leave and Ali Williams had retired.

Five players, Ben Afeaki, Jeremy Thrush, Steven Luatua, Charles Piutau and Matt Todd, made their test debuts last June against France and Francis Saili was also in the squad.

This year McCaw has broken his thumb but should be back on duty late next month while Ma'a Nonu and Keven Mealamu have yet to play because of injury.

Jerome Kaino's return to action after two years in Japan will be a fascinating topic.

There are hookers to be judged and scouting continuing for another centre and assessments made of the rising talent and whether they fit the All Black template.

- 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.

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