Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Selection logjam at back three

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Ben Smith. Photo / Greg Bowker
Ben Smith. Photo / Greg Bowker

Ben Smith's unfortunate injury has snuffed out another chance tonight to assess his fullback talents against those of Israel Dagg.

That matchup promised to provoke another round of southern and national debate about the claims of both men to occupy the fullback role for the All Blacks.

Dagg's lingering thigh injury allowed Smith to showcase his talents against England on his home track in Dunedin where his incisive forays and dependable work drew acclaim.

Another steady showing from Smith at Hamilton provoked suggestions that Dagg had his work cut out to get back into the starting lineup.

When you throw in the robust charms of Charles Piutau, the selection logjam at fullback gets a bit more congested.

Someone will suggest the most effective solution, given the All Black selectors' preference for a range of skills from their back three, is to play them all but that eliminates the flowing power of Julian Savea and the savvy of Cory Jane.

If everyone is fit, Savea is a certainty for duty on the left wing with the others left to fight out the right flank and fullback.

Jane has been a rock throughout most of his 48 tests for the All Blacks where his instincts, support play and imagination suit the commission the selectors have given their men.

His play dwindled this season but injuries to Savea and Piutau then Dagg allowed Jane to stay in the side and regather some of the confidence which had not flowed back into his game since he injured his knee.

Smith switched from his wing role to fullback and reinforced how lucky the side was and how difficult the decisions were for the All Black panel. In form and injury-free, Dagg brings pace, awareness and a kicking game which Smith cannot emulate.

So if they are all fit, Dagg at fullback and Smith on the wing with Savea looms as the likely outcome.

However that discounts Piutau, whose attacking inclinations and uncanny expression offer another dimension to the team. If he stays fit he will be in the Rugby Championship squad and pushing for a starting role where his physical presence and instincts deliver danger to the opposition.

Piutau can cover a mix of roles from the bench and that may be his initial posting but there is an incessant vitality about his play which matches the sort of fervour Smith produces.

They are busy players, they want to be involved, while Dagg seems to pick his moments. Who will find that selection tick for Sydney when the All Blacks resume against the Wallabies on August 16?

- 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.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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