Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Cup certainties to back out of African game

Brad Thorn has already played in South Africa (twice) and London this season. Photo / Getty Images
Brad Thorn has already played in South Africa (twice) and London this season. Photo / Getty Images

If there has been a lack of moral outrage from the All Blacks about being sent a weakened South African team it is because they are conscious they are likely to surprise a few people with the make-up of their 26-man squad that travels to the Republic.

The All Blacks won't rest players on the same scale as the South Africans. But nor are they going to let some of their frontline talent, who have already endured the travel burden from hell, be further damaged in what is being viewed more and more as a needless fixture.

Graham Henry has the impossible task of fulfilling incompatible objectives. He wants to win the Tri Nations; he wants his side to continue evolving yet he doesn't want to reach the World Cup with some of his best players almost dead on their feet. So what is he to do?

As assistant coach Steve Hansen said earlier in the week: "The most important tournament of the year is the Rugby World Cup and every rugby nation is looking at that as the case.

"If you win the World Cup and don't win the Tri Nations, regardless of what country does it, who cares?

"If we won the World Cup and didn't win the Tri Nations, do you think people will be complaining about the Tri Nations?

"I can't see too many and it will be the same in South Africa, same in Australia."

The administrators, as usual, have dealt a lousy hand. They have burdened the Sanzar nations with an extended Super Rugby season and a Tri Nations that will not finish until after the World Cup deadline to name official squads.

The Boks, while a little disrespectful to the broadcast arrangements, have made a decision that is hard to fault.

Why send their best team here then fly them home for two tests only to bring them back two weeks later?

If the All Blacks had been burdened with a schedule that required them to play in Africa and Australia just two weeks after the Super Rugby final, would they have done things differently to the Boks?

Probably not - after all, they rested a handful of players against Fiji and kept four - Keven Mealamu, Kieran Read, Brad Thorn and Owen Franks - out of action last night.

Three of those four have been to South Africa twice already this year and also to London and while they have rested these past two weeks, do they really need to head to South Africa again?

Will the Crusaders in this group stay at home or have they been rested now so they are fresh enough to head to Port Elizabeth?

The All Blacks are also looking at welcoming back their injured contingent of Tony Woodcock, Isaia Toeava, Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui for the away leg of the Tri Nations.

All four will need to play which means it's possible that the like of Mils Muliaina and Ma'a Nonu might not be on the plane. They are World Cup certainties so why put them through the travel if they are unlikely to play?

Henry can be belligerent and resilient, qualities that will serve him well. In World Cup years coaches are hammered for everything they do; if they rest players they are told they are disrespectful; if they carry on flogging players they are criticised for not resting them.

But if the All Blacks go on to win the World Cup then whatever Henry did before will be deemed to be right.

If he has moments of uncertainly all he needs to remember is that in 2007 it was the Springboks who won the World Cup - yet they finished last in the Tri Nations with just one victory.

- Herald on Sunday

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