Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: All Blacks focus on rising talent

Patrick Tuipulotu. Photo / Greg Bowker
Patrick Tuipulotu. Photo / Greg Bowker

The focus will be on the emergence of the bright young All Black talent and whether Patrick Tuipulotu, Malakai Fekitoa and Nathan Harris survive for the June series with England.

While they have emerged from the Super 15 series, young men like Tom Taylor, Frank Halai and Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen who caught the eye last season have been sidestepped.

Others too, like Francis Saili and Ben Afeaki, but they are injured.

Most striking is the collection of loose forward talent in yesterday's All Black wider training squad. It is a glossy group of proven performers, comeback cattle and thriving promise without any room for Matt Todd and Brad Shields, who were around the mark last June.

No appearance either for Ardie Savea, the apprentice loosie who went on a rugby educational with the All Blacks to Europe on the end-of-year tour. There is no vacancy for former All Black Tanerau Latimeror consistent Blues captain Luke Braid who would threaten most international squads around the globe.

Eight loose forwards have been picked for the All Black selectors to evaluate and probably trim to six for the three tests with England.

An asterisk next to Luke Whitelock's selection only for the initial camp in Christchurch starting on Sunday indicates he will be one casualty, with the other probably a shootout between Victor Vito and Steven Luatua.

Ongoing problems for Kieran Read may be another factor with the Crusaders No8 yet to return to action after his second concussion this year.

Luatua's claims will be helped by his ability to fill in at lock, his history with the team and the coaches' confidence they can find and adjust the details behind his flat-lining form. More experience comes with Vito, who can play across the blindside and No8 roles and is starting to hint he is getting a more complete grasp of his work.

The group will be trimmed from the 36 players named yesterday to 31 with the June 1 announcement of the squad to play England. The casualties look like they will be a hooker, a lock, a loose forward, a halfback and another loosie or one of the midfield backs.

Recalled five-eighths Colin Slade may remain because of his utility value while rookie hooker Harris' continued stay will hinge on his impression in the camps and in the Chiefs' games with the Hurricanes and Waratahs before the test window.

One of the younger halfbacks, Tawera Kerr-Barlow or TJ Perenara, may be at risk and Jeremy Thrush looms as another casualty because he is needed only for the second training camp in Wellington.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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