Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Never mind the silence, we can talk

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Israel Dagg has looked lively in his first two games for the Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images
Israel Dagg has looked lively in his first two games for the Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images

All right, all right, we know the All Black selectors refuse to debate the merits of players at this stage of the season.

Usually they are reluctant to discuss any individuals until they reveal their test squad after the Super series is dusted.

It all adds to the mystery, the sense of intrigue, the magic of the black jersey. You've all heard the phrases.

"There's a lot of water to flow under the bridge", "it's a long tournament", "we want to see how they react in the pressure of finals football", and other versions of those comments.

But for the rest of us it is a free canvas. Whom do we like, which players have caught our eye? Is anyone making a World Cup move, backwards or forwards, at this preliminary stage of the Super 15?

There's a group whose injuries meant they did not travel on the end-of-year trip last season or who were invalided home - Israel Dagg, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Richard Kahui, Piri Weepu, Ben Franks and Adam Thomson.

Dagg looked lively in his debut for the Crusaders against the Blues, Franks was a solid substitute in that match for his younger brother and Thomson has been notching up some superb numbers for the rejigged Highlanders.

Kahui and Weepu remain in the casualty bay, and Sivivatu still looks as though he is running off his summer break.

Lock Ali Williams is back for the Blues without yet looking ready for that level of rugby, and loose forwards such as Liam Messam and Daniel Braid have been slow out of the blocks.

Charlie Faumuina, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Matt Todd, Shaun Treeby and Josh Bekhuis are non-capped players who have given an early "look at me" nudge.

Those initial stages of the competition have been ruptured by a swag of unusual events.

The Christchurch earthquake will occupy many pages in the Crusaders' history, Ma'a Nonu's one-week ban became more like a three-week stand-down and Danny Cipriani managed to sidestep a nightclub indiscretion in Melbourne.

Reports alleged the imported five-eighths helped himself to a bottle of vodka without paying on the opening night of the Super 15. He was ejected by the club and fined by the Rebels, but played the next game, kicking the side to victory against the Brumbies.

You wonder if Joe Public or any other player would have got the same exit visa from the nightclub.

It takes you back to 1966 when All Black centre Ron Rangi swore at the Governor-General's wife, Lady Fergusson, when she reprimanded him for swiping a bottle of spirits at an aftermatch function at the Papakura Military Camp.

Rangi played the fourth test against the Lions a few days later but that was his 10th and final international. At an NZRU hearing, he was banned for a year and never pulled on the All Black jersey again.

Perish that World Cup thought for those in the sick bay this season. Heading that list is the national skipper Richie McCaw, while others getting lengthy medical attention are Hosea Gear and Tom Donnelly.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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