The standoff that sent Toeava south

By Wynne Gray

A lengthy selection standoff between the Blues and the New Zealand Rugby Union was eventually settled with seasoned midfielder Rua Tipoki chosen but new All Black Isaia Toeava dispatched to the Hurricanes.

Midfield was always going to be a logjam for coach David Nucifora to unravel as he contemplated the merits of Tipoki, Toeava, Luke McAlister, Ben Atiga, Isa Nacewa, Sam Tuitupou and Anthony Tuitavake.

The complications grew when Toeava was picked for the All Blacks and Tipoki granted a dispensation to stay in Auckland for personal reasons, much as Andrew Mehrtens used to do with the Crusaders.

Initially Nucifora left Tipoki outside his original group of 24 protected players, thinking he could retrieve him in the draft. An NZRU panel ordered Nucifora to change his decision.

The Herald understands the Highlanders protected only 17 players out of the allowed 24, the Chiefs and Hurricanes left two spots open and the Crusaders, one.

It appears the Blues' final picks from the pool were all from North Harbour - George Pisi, Anthony Boric and Mike Noble.

A NZRU advisory panel of the All Black selectors Graham Henry and Sir Brian Lochore, with input from John Graham, Steve Tew and Steve Lancaster, advised Nucifora to include Tipoki in the original Blues squad.

That decision began a long and intense debate.

The panel argued for Tipoki's inclusion as he had been in strong contention for an All Black tour place. They questioned the choice of Isa Nacewa because of his ineligibility for the All Blacks and hinted wing Viliame Waqaseduadua might be expendable.

A lingering impasse was broken only when the Blues agreed to release new national utility Toeava. The panel agreed to that deal, an unusual decision given the All Blacks had chosen Toeava ahead of Tipoki. The teenage utility agreed to join the Hurricanes, where he is tipped to be tried at fullback, and will be reunited with the national under-19 coach Aussie McLean.

"We are disappointed, you are always disappointed when you lose players, especially quality players but that is the nature of the system," Nucifora said.

Once the squad had settled into training after New Year, a captain would be announced.

The Blues were able to pick flanker Justin Collins as he had a medical exemption to stay in the Blues franchise. The coach explained that he viewed Collins and Angus Macdonald as deputy openside flankers to Daniel Braid.

Debut Blues picks are Northland hooker Tim Dow, North Harbour utility forward Boric, Waqaseduadua, prop Noble, Pisi and Auckland lock Kurtis Haiu.

Troy Flavell is returning to rugby in New Zealand after two seasons in Japan.

Hooker and solitary Northland pick Dow acknowledged his fortune because of the long-term injury to Derren Witcombe and the departure of Joe Ward.

He had originally targeted a place in the wider Blues training squad, conscious if he failed he had enough work to return to as a truancy officer.

"There is a future in that job, a lot of job security unfortunately," Dow said. "But this is better, it was great to hear I was picked."

After three seasons without an NPC win for Northland he was looking forward to victories with the Blues.

Others who played for the Blues this year but have gone elsewhere or are injured are Mils Muliaina, Rudi Wulf, Sam Tuitupou, Carlos Spencer, Xavier Rush, Jerome Kaino, Tom Harding, Bradley Mika, Taufa'ao Filise and Derren Witcombe.

* Auckland coaches Pat Lam and Shane Howarth have been signed for an extra two years after taking their side to the NPC title this season.

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