All Blacks: Guildford wins race of the wingers

Zac Guildford during the Tri-Nations test match played at Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Zac Guildford during the Tri-Nations test match played at Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Zac Guildford can often fly under the radar as a player and he was one of the surprise selections in today's 30-man All Blacks squad for the upcoming World Cup.

Oppositions tend to underestimate the 22-year-old wing, and most expected Guildford to be a casualty in the final cut. Instead, he's usurped the higher-profile Hosea Gear and Sitiveni Sivivatu, who have a combined 52 caps between them (Sivivatu also played three times for the Pacific Islands).

The back three was the most congested position and a couple of world-class players had to miss out.

Gear could be seen as the unluckiest of the two. He is a powerful runner possessing speed and skill, and he's also sure under the high ball, which is a prerequisite for wings in today's game. He was safe in last weekend's test against the Springboks but wasn't busy enough and it counted against him in the final washup.

Sivivatu has had an indifferent season. He looked unfit early in the Super Rugby campaign for the Chiefs but seemed to be recapturing his spark towards the end of the tournament and was sharp against Fiji in Dunedin in the year's first test. A fractured eye socket ruled him out of contention for the latter part of the Tri Nations but he would have been fit for the World Cup. At his best, however, Sivivatu can make something out of nothing and has a brilliant record having scored 29 tries in his 45 tests.

But the selectors have instead gone for Guildford, who has been excellent throughout 2011. Guildford injured his hamstring pre-season, which meant he missed the opening rounds, but he slotted in seamlessly on his return. He possesses genuine pace and reads the game well, pulling off a number of important tackles, but his biggest strength is his workrate. He regularly pops up close to the ruck for inside balls.

"When he's played for us, he's played particularly well,'' All Blacks coach Graham Henry said at the squad naming in Brisbane. "He played for the All Blacks for a couple of years ago as a young player and he looked the goods then.

"He slipped away a bit. Wayne [Smith] talked to him about the skillset and attitude he had to bring.

"He playes with a huge amount of energy and has scored a lot of tries. We like his workrate and energy... and we think he's played with a little bit more energy than the others - a bit more desire. Because of that energy, he got the nod.''

Guildford made his test debut against Wales in November 2009 and played his last test in the 40-7 defeat of South Africa in Wellington in July.

Cory Jane and Isaia Toeava were also picked as wings and Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui provide additional cover out wide.

World Cup squad:
Forwards: John Afoa (Auckland), Anthony Boric (North Harbour), Corey Flynn (Canterbury), Ben Franks (Tasman), Owen Franks (Canterbury), Andrew Hore (Taranaki), Jerome Kaino (Auckland), Richie McCaw (captain, Canterbury), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Kieran Read (Canterbury), Adam Thomson (Otago), Brad Thorn (Canterbury), Samuel Whitelock (Canterbury), Ali Williams (Auckland), Tony Woodcock (North Harbour).

Backs: Daniel Carter (Canterbury), Jimmy Cowan (Southland), Israel Dagg (Hawke's Bay), Andy Ellis (Canterbury), Zac Guildford (Hawke's Bay), Cory Jane (Wellington), Richard Kahui (Waikato), Mils Muliaina (Waikato), Ma'a Nonu (Wellington), Colin Slade (Canterbury), Conrad Smith (Wellington), Isaia Toeava (Auckland), Victor Vito (Wellington), Piri Weepu (Wellington), Sonny Bill Williams (Canterbury).

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