Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Victory built on pack stability

Jerome Kaino in action against Tonga. Photo / Greg Bowker
Jerome Kaino in action against Tonga. Photo / Greg Bowker

What a difference an All Black year makes.

When they played and beat Wales 37-25 in their final test in Cardiff last season, the All Black pack featured the same eight men who began this month's World Cup final.

Richie McCaw captained a side with fellow forwards Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Brad Thorn, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read.

That pack provided the power against the Wallabies in the semifinal and were retained for the shootout with France.

But the backs were a different breed. Of those who began the test at Millennium Stadium, just one started the World Cup final.

No prizes for guessing it was Conrad Smith who survived Cardiff to make it to Eden Park.

Others who wore the black strip that day from No 9 to No 15 were Jimmy Cowan, Daniel Carter, Sonny Bill Williams, Smith, Hosea Gear, Isaia Toeava and Mils Muliaina.

Carter and Muliaina were invalided out of the World Cup, Gear did not make the initial cut, but was included eventually to replace Muliaina, Toeava and Cowan missed the final 22 and Williams was a bit-part appearance from the bench.

The back three have been a revolving selection puzzle. There were reasons.

For last year's trip to Europe, Israel Dagg hurt his thigh and Richard Kahui had shoulder trouble, which eliminated them from squad selection, while Sitiveni Sivivatu was picked but was a late injury withdrawal, Cory Jane was not required for the last test nor was Joe Rokocoko.

For the first part of this year, Muliaina was the preferred fullback while the wing choices were a mish-mash of Zac Guildford, Sivivatu, Jane, Gear and Toeava.

Then the back three shuffles began in earnest. There were reasons, but there also seemed to be selection anxiety about the style and form of those under scrutiny.

Sivivatu showed some very late form, but lacked any great training ethic after injury and Rokocoko was out of form, so they were jettisoned.

Jane, Toeava and Guildford were the nominal wings and Muliaina remained the fullback without any spark.

Guildford's form had been shaky towards the end of the Super 15. He had speed but the rest of his game looked limited and Toeava seemed more comfortable playing elsewhere while Jane appeared to have sharpened his game at the right time.

So when the selectors shook out the real form book, Dagg had to play fullback, Jane and Kahui were the wings for their utility value rather than their specialist or regular wing play.

They were strong footballers who filled a void in the side and worked well under tournament pressure. That trio were examples of how sides need to change their thinking for tournaments such as the World Cup.

If all goes well, a World Cup is a seven-game stretch where sides face pressure and problems which are very different from that in a regular Tri-Nations or overseas test series. The Mash unit following the five-eighths group showed that all too clearly.

You had to wonder who was the next on that call-up list had the All Blacks faced another test. Would it have been Tony Brown, Mike Delany, Robbie Robinson, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Lima Sopoaga, Beauden Barrett or would an SOS have gone overseas to men like Luke McAlister and Stephen Brett? Perhaps Graham Henry might tell us before he slopes off to fish the Hauraki Gulf.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

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.

Read more by Wynne Gray

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 28 Apr 2017 02:17:04 Processing Time: 476ms