Rugby: Hansen to study raw talent

By Daniel Richardson

Training camps give All Black coach chance to assess fringe players in build-up to test series against England.

Steve Hansen announced his latest 36-strong training group yesterday. Photo / Christine Cornege
Steve Hansen announced his latest 36-strong training group yesterday. Photo / Christine Cornege

When a new player comes into the All Blacks' training environment, coach Steve Hansen is trying to learn about them as much as they're trying to learn the playbook.

Since training camps have become the rage ahead of the June test window, the All Blacks have run a series of get-togethers with a larger group of players.

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Sometimes Hansen and his coaching group will leave out those they know well but keep them in mind for test selection, while they take a punt on others they want to know more about.

Hansen announced his latest 36-strong training group yesterday and they will assemble for a camp in Christchurch from Sunday to next Tuesday and in Wellington from Sunday, May 25 to Tuesday, May 27.

He's been playing very, very well and ticked all the boxes.
Steve Hansen on Malakai Fekitoa

The wider training group includes five players who are uncapped at international level.

Highlanders midfielder Malakai Fekitoa, Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu, Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara and hookers Nathan Harris and Liam Coltman have all been summoned, although Perenara was a regular squad member last year. They may not make the final cut to meet England in a three-test home series next month but the selectors will be comfortable they have done enough to canvas the newcomers.

Fekitoa only recently turned 22 but has had an eye-catching string of games for the Highlanders in 2014. "His form was such that we couldn't not include him," Hansen said.

"He's been playing very, very well and ticked all the boxes and he's someone we are very interested in looking at and getting to know a bit better."

The 21-year-old Tuipulotu is a player who holds similar intrigue.

All Blacks v England
1st test - Eden Park - June 7
2nd test - Forsyth Barr Stadium - June 14
3rd test - Waikato Stadium - June 21

Hansen acknowledged hooker was an ongoing concern, with veteran Crusaders rake Corey Flynn leaving at the end of the Super Rugby season to link with French club Toulouse. Behind Keven Mealamu and the ever-improving Dane Coles there's a noted lack of depth.

Coltman is known to the selectors after spending time with the All Blacks last year but Harris, who has impressed for the Chiefs this season, is someone who could develop nicely.

Halfback is a position where Hansen has chosen to leave out veterans Andy Ellis and Piri Weepu with an eye to ironing out a few "rough edges" from Perenara's game, while Chiefs No9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow is also getting better.

Hurricanes No8 Victor Vito has been recalled after improving his physicality but joins a congested loose forward mix. Selecting the returning Jerome Kaino was a no-brainer, while the broken ankle suffered by Crusaders lock Luke Romano means fellow Cantabrian Luke Whitelock will take part in the Christchurch camp, while Hurricanes second-rower Jeremy Thrush will get a chance at the Wellington camp.

Blues outside back Charles Piutau's knee problem allowed Hansen and Co to pick an extra first-five, which resulted in Colin Slade being selected to practise alongside Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett.

Hansen will name his squad to meet England on June 1.


Hooker Nathan Harris. Photo / APN

Hooker Harris takes fast elevator to the top

Nathan Harris has gone from No4 at the Chiefs to No4 in the country in the space of a few months.

The 22-year-old Chiefs and Bay of Plenty hooker attended 2013 All Blacks camps under the hooking apprentice scheme, but his official elevation to the wider training group has been meteoric, when one considers he has started just the last two Chiefs games, and has logged just 220 minutes all season.

In Harris' favour is that his lineout throwing, at an 88 per cent success rate, is rather more accurate than the 67 per cent of regular Chiefs No2 Rhys Marshall, according to the Rugby Herald Stats Centre. He has benefited, in the first instance, from the neck injury which has stymied Hika Elliot's season, and, secondly, from the concerted effort of the Chiefs pack in the last two rounds. Corey Flynn's departure to French club Toulouse at the end of this Super Rugby campaign has also aided his cause in the national pecking order.

Liam Coltman, of the Highlanders, is the other young hooker named, alongside the Canes' Dane Coles and Blues veteran Keven Mealamu. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Harris could see action in the June series against England given Coles has a bad back and Mealamu's calves are often problematic.

Harris discovered the selection news after the Chiefs' win over the Blues in New Plymouth last Friday night.

"Nathan Harris has been waiting for an opportunity and once he's been given an opportunity, he's been particularly impressive," said All Black coach Steve Hansen. "Liam Coltman's been on the scene for a while and has come along nicely. We're not sure whether they are ready for test rugby, but we'll find out more at the camp."

Two years ago, Harris was part of the New Zealand Under-20s in South Africa. He subsequently outed himself as the man at the centre of rape allegations, which he vigorously denied. The case was later dropped by police.

- Campbell Burnes

All Blacks' training squad:

Hookers: Keven Mealamu (Blues), Nathan Harris (Chiefs), Dane Coles (Hurricanes) and Liam Coltman (Highlanders).

Props: Charlie Faumuina and Tony Woodcock (Blues), Ben Franks (Hurricanes) and Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks (Crusaders).

Locks: Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Jeremy Thrush (Hurricanes) and Dominic Bird and Sam Whitelock (Crusaders).

Loose forwards: Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua (Blues), Sam Cane and Liam Messam (Chiefs), Victor Vito (Hurricanes) and Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Luke Whitelock (Crusaders).

Halfbacks: Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) and Aaron Smith (Highlanders).

First five-eighths: Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes) and Colin Slade (Crusaders).

Midfielders: Ma'a Nonu (Blues), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Ryan Crotty (Crusaders) and Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders).

Outside backs: Cory Jane and Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Israel Dagg (Crusaders) and Ben Smith (Highlanders).

- APNZ

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