Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Struggle to fill the left wing spot

Forwards coach Steve Hansen said the core of the team which started against Tonga would be picked again this week. Photo / Getty Images
Forwards coach Steve Hansen said the core of the team which started against Tonga would be picked again this week. Photo / Getty Images

A journey south to Hamilton and today's All Black announcement for the second Rugby World Cup match sends you past the homes of unwanted wings Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu.

Neither of the experienced men - with 85 tests between them on the left flank - was required for the World Cup yet the All Blacks are struggling to find someone to occupy the No 11 jersey this season.

For a side supposed to have a dazzling surfeit of talent at fullback and wing, that acclaim looks to have lost a bit of gloss since the quintet of Mils Muliaina, Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Isaia Toeava and Zac Guildford was chosen three weeks ago.

Guildford wobbled on the left flank in Brisbane and was hauled off early while Toeava did not look comfortable in that role when the All Blacks began the World Cup last week. Right wing does not look such a problem with Jane, new choice Richard Kahui and perhaps Toeava more secure on that side of the park.

Decisions about those areas will be revealed today as the All Blacks unveil their combination to meet Japan in second-round pool play on Friday at Waikato Stadium.

In six tests the All Blacks have played this year, Guildford and Hosea Gear had two starts each on the left wing while Sivivatu and Toeava each played one international in that position.

Specialists Gear and Sivivatu missed the cup cut, Guildford does not look ready while Toeava is a utility.

However the latter pair are probably vying for the job again in Hamilton.

First five-eighths Daniel Carter should be involved although confirmation may have to wait until the side trains again today.

"He has a sore back after a knock in a tackle but is improving daily," Dr Deb Robinson said. "He didn't train fully on Monday, but we hope he will today."

A report on flanker Adam Thomson's recovery from an elbow injury will impact on the loose-forward formation and may determine whether captain Richie McCaw turns out for his 100th test.

Three squad members, Andy Ellis, Anthony Boric and Corey Flynn, have yet to start a test this year and will be hoping for at least more work from the bench on Friday.

Forwards coach Steve Hansen said the core of the team which started against Tonga would be picked again this week.

A week ago he mentioned centre Conrad Smith was being primed to start against Japan and that appearance will be Smith's 50th in the test jersey.

The curiosity is whether similar selection clearance is given to experienced fullback Mils Muliaina, hooker Keven Mealamu and utility prop John Afoa.

The selectors had a selection plan for the campaign and Hansen said they would persevere with those ideas. They were going to be consistent, he said, but did not want to go into any tests with players who were not fit.

"We're not worried about people on the outside. However there's no doubt we're feeling some pressure because it's been 24 years since we've won a World Cup.

"We're sure we're taking the right road."

Hansen said Japan played with passion and finesse in their match with France and had probably shown better form than the All Blacks in the first round.

All Blacks v Japan
8pm, Friday, Waikato Stadium

- NZ Herald

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