Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Eye on new talent in Bledisloe countdown

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Malakai Fekitoa earned his first rugby test cap against England. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Malakai Fekitoa earned his first rugby test cap against England. Photo / Brett Phibbs

There are new men on the test rugby block. Either side of the Tasman we see the talents of Malakai Fekitoa and Will Skelton and wonder how their futures will pan out.

There was the vigorous straight-line running from Fekitoa mixed with rugged defence and the rumbling D9 power and deft touches of Skelton.

Impressive young men, born a week apart in 1992, Skelton starting his 140kg, 2.03m life in Auckland while the 99kg, 1.87m Fekitoa was born in Tonga.

Now both have made a start in test rugby, a step up to the next level which they hope to inhabit at the next World Cup and beyond. Both got their starts because of injury and will smell the atmosphere of Bledisloe Cup conflict on August 16 in Sydney.

When the All Blacks and Wallabies return to test match conflict we will be asking a kazillion questions.

At the top will be whether, this time, the All Blacks can get past the psychological hump and claim the record for most consecutive test wins.

Staring down similar streaks against the Wallabies in 2010 in Hong Kong and 2012 in Brisbane, the All Blacks were cut down by their own inefficiency as much as by the Wallaby resistance.

The All Blacks have changed far less than the Wallabies since the all-penalties stalemate two years ago.

Hosea Gear has gone abroad and Daniel Carter's return is problematic. The team are still playing an up-tempo mix of power and attacking width with variations coming from the different skills of Julian Savea and Ben Smith, Jerome Kaino, who has been recycled, and new faces Fekitoa, Patrick Tuipulotu, TJ Perenara, Charles Piutau and Beauden Barrett.

The Wallabies have lost or ignored Sitileki Timani, Nathan Sharpe, Ben Tapuai and Mike Harris from their starting side and James Hanson, Dave Dennis, Liam Gill, Brett Sheehan and Drew Mitchell from the reserves.

Israel Folau is their greatest signing and a huge threat at fullback while a gaggle of new backs around him offer enterprise and forwards such as Sam Carter, Scott Fardy and Skelton bring a broader edge to their basics.

It's almost 50 days until we see and digest the first Bledisloe Cup test, with both squads having to play the last of Super rugby.

A bunch of All Blacks - Richie McCaw, Sam Cane, Conrad Smith, Charles Piutau, Luke Romano - are in the panelbeating sheds while the recovery of Kieran Read, Carter and Israel Dagg will get earlier inspection.

Those are the current dramas. There will be more as Super Rugby takes its toll until the early August conclusion to the series then the fortnight interlude before the showdown in Sydney.

- 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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