Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Time to play pick a squad

Dan Carter is running again after his ankle operation but he has not yet been cleared for a return. Photo / Getty Images
Dan Carter is running again after his ankle operation but he has not yet been cleared for a return. Photo / Getty Images

For the next 48 hours, the nation's rugby aficionados will second-guess the All Black selectors.

Amateur panels will scrutinise provincial matches for form and injury, note who is making comebacks and try to tune in to the selectors' thoughts about their 30-strong squad to play the Wallabies in Hong Kong then attempt a Grand Slam tour.

Complicating the choices are medical reports on some such as Andrew Hore, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Daniel Carter. That trio has yet to appear in the ITM Cup but may get clearances to join the tour if they play next weekend or the one after.

As long as they can play on tour, they may be picked so the medical staff can monitor their recovery.

We do know that Richard Kahui, Luke McAlister, Adam Thomson, Ali Williams and Corey Flynn are unavailable, though that hardly eases some of the selection congestion.

There is a logjam of choices at wing and first five-eighths, while the loose forward, lock and hooking choices are more limited.

Since the All Black panel was reappointed after the last World Cup, it has introduced 34 players to test rugby in an even split between backs and forwards. Only four of those, Anthony Tuitavake, Rudi Wulf, Tamati Ellison and Kevin O'Neill, have disappeared overseas.

One new face in the touring group will be midfield back Sonny Bill Williams, while forwards like Colin Bourke, Jarrod Hoeata and Josh Bekhuis are pushing their loose forward and locking credentials.

Carter is running again after his ankle operation but he has not yet been cleared for a return, Sivivatu is the same while there are suggestions Hore will play next weekend.

Inquiries to the New Zealand Rugby Union about the health of that trio and others, drew a "wait till the side is announced" response.

That will be tomorrow at Eden Park once the final provincial game of the weekend, North Harbour against Hawkes Bay, has finished.

The greatest selection congestion is on the wing, where Joe Rokocoko, Sivivatu, Rene Ranger, Hosea Gear, Zac Guildford and Ben Smith have all been capped and are jostling for two places alongside Cory Jane.

That overload of threequarter choices is compounded as deputy fullback Israel Dagg has shown he can play well on the wing at test level.

Williams' introduction is likely to squeeze Benson Stanley out of the squad while impressive Canterbury centre Robbie Fruean may also be out of luck in the choice of 14 backs.

Logic says Aaron Cruden and Colin Slade, who filled in for Carter when he was injured for the last Bledisloe Cup test, will travel to do the same job while Carter can mentor them until he is ready to play. That leaves no room for the more experienced duo of Stephen Donald and Mike Delany, who have shown strong form in comebacks from injury.

Finding an openside flanker to deputise consistently for captain Richie McCaw has been an unresolved matter for the selectors.

They have tried a few players but may settle on Daniel Braid, who has been an All Black, had a strong Super 14 and has sharpened his form with Auckland in the past month.

Kieran Read has made great advances since he was promoted to No 8 and is an automatic selection but settling on a deputy is not as evident.

Bourke, Hoeata and Liam Messam all offer different ranges of skill and perhaps Messam will get one last chance to show he can assimilate the team strategies.

Jason Eaton has played several games for Taranaki B as he continues his recovery from a knee operation and Bekhuis has been a strong member of the Southland pack in their robust Ranfurly Shield campaign. Anthony Boric has been a touch quiet with an underperforming side in the ITM Cup but he has the talent, experience and smarts to get another go.

- NZ Herald

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