Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: All Blacks have shot at rugby redemption

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Ritchie McCaw celebrates a try with Mils Muliaina. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Ritchie McCaw celebrates a try with Mils Muliaina. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The All Black coaches have been joined by 10 players from the last flawed World Cup campaign for their chance at redemption.

They also delivered a selection shift with the shock elevation of Hurricanes looseforward Victor Vito at the expense of Liam Messam.

The versatile Messam has been a revolving choice in nine tests for the All Blacks since 2008 and after his latest Tri-Nations campaign, his luck went south again.

Vito was the beneficiary, the only player from outside the original extended 34-man squad, who made the cut. He is still a work in progress but his size, power and leadership qualities make him a better prospect for what the All Blacks hope will be a prolonged campaign.

"It was a form thing in the finish," coach Graham Henry said.

"Victor has played very well and was close to selection for the original Tri-Nations squad.

"He is a lineout option and Liam (Messam) did not quite tick all the boxes in the last test."

In a tighter contest, the selectors have retained wing Zac Guildford and jettisoned Hosea Gear, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Ben Smith.

Henry said Guildford's form had slipped since his 2009 debut but his skills and attitude had returned this season.

"He has showed a lot of energy, scored a lot of tries and made himself available especially on that inside ball. He has played with more energy and desire than the others."

While the debates will go on about the selections at work, rugby clubs and in households for much of this week, those discussions are really only about the squad extras.

For some time Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith had signalled their primary playing XV, reserves and a few more.

While Colin Slade and Sonny Bill Williams and others were average at Port Elizabeth, they were not going to be jettisoned now.

Medical checks and the last few places at wing and looseforward in the mix of 16 forwards and 14 backs took up all the late discussion time.

Gear has been steady but struggled to recapture last season's snap after hamstring troubles, and like his elder brother Rico in 2007, misses out on the global tournament.

Ben Smith was jousting with Israel Dagg and Sivivatu came up a shade shy.

His Super 15 form was mediocre, he is leaving for a contract in France and was on notice from the All Black selectors about his behaviour and form.

Earlier this year, Henry mentioned that selections may hinge on such issues and eventually they may have cost Sivivatu his place.

He looked a different player when called up from the standby group to fill in at tests at Carisbrook and Eden Park.

However the injury recovery and all season form of Isaia Toeava, the persistence of Zac Guildford and the revival of Jane and Dagg ended up stalling Sivivatu's bid.

Blues lock Anthony Boric has been chosen with advice from the medical staff he would recover in time for the tournament after two months out with a foot injury.

Prop Tony Woodcock's hit out against the Boks also closed the selection push from Wyatt Crockett with the selectors wanting one specialist loosehead, one tighthead and Ben Franks and John Afoa who could cover both roles.

Captain Richie McCaw and four others - Mils Muliaina, Daniel Carter, Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu - will go into their third campaign.

Midfield back Ma'a Nonu, lock Brad Thorn and hooker Corey Flynn have been reinstated after playing in 2003 but missing the 2007 failure in Europe.

World Cup squad:

Mils Muliaina, Israel Dagg, Isaia Toeava, Cory Jane, Zac Guildford, Conrad Smith, Richard Kahui, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Daniel Carter, Colin Slade, Jimmy Cowan, Piri Weepu, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Jerome Kaino, Adam Thomson, Victor Vito, Ali Williams, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Anthony Boric, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, John Afoa, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Corey Flynn.

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Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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