Brian Ashby: Will ABs selectors ignore Ellis again?

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Will the All Blacks selectors bring back Andy Ellis for the June tests? Photo / Getty Images
Will the All Blacks selectors bring back Andy Ellis for the June tests? Photo / Getty Images

It's easy to rewrite history. Heading into May 2012, there was a general consensus: the form halfback in the New Zealand Conference was Crusader Andy Ellis. Jimmy Cowan was chasing foreign currency and the other World Cup number nine had gone from "Super Hero" to "Super Size Me" in just a few short months. It's hard to think of a worse form and fitness reversal than what we saw from Piri Weepu in 2012.

Ellis had been trusted enough to steer the All Blacks through the last half hour of the World Cup final, and with 26 tests to his name, the then 2-year-old appeared poised to become the senior pro in the number nine jersey.

lt was all on track with the naming of the initial training squad, but when the first squad for the June tests was named, there was no Ellis. There's still no Ellis, and he's never had an explanation why. There's more to it than pride in the black jersey - in the professional era, like it or not, non selection impacts on income and it must've been particularly galling for Ellis to see a clearly out of condition Weepu winning favour.

Despite approaches from a French club last year, Ellis has shown commendable loyalty to New Zealand Rugby.

Highlander Aaron Smith has proven to be a magnificent selection and TJ Perenara will hopefully be the same when they ultimately unchain him for his first test. Tawera Kerr-Barlow probably hasn't nailed his opportunities and his progress has been minimal. It's great to see Weepu back on the field, but it became increasingly clear last year that the selectors patience was beginning to run out.

So will the selectors do what Laurie Mains did nearly 20 years ago? After jettisoning Graeme Bachop, Mains suddenly realised what he'd been missing and recalled the Canterbury builder. Despite (or maybe because of) his appalling facial hair, Ellis is a hugely popular player and leader within the Crusaders. Maybe because he's so inoffensive, he's been a soft target for the selectors.

At the age of just 30, Ellis still has a lot to offer at test level - there's no doubt that for many in Crusaders territory, particularly within Canterbury, there will be a sense of injustice if the Burnside High School old boy is again ignored. He isn't exactly the best player to have worn the number nine jersey for New Zealand, but he's a long way from the worst!

After playing their way back into contention in South Africa and then Hamilton, it's suddenly again looking a little shaky for the Crusaders with the Hurricanes, Highlanders and the Blues all starting to find some form. Saturday's battle with the brutal Brumbies at AMI Stadium is yet again shaping as a must win - another occasion when all the leadership and experience of Ellis will be vital. But will the selectors be watching?

- NZ Herald

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