Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Magnificent seven step out of Hayman's shadow

Carl Hayman. Photo / Getty Images
Carl Hayman. Photo / Getty Images

It felt like a blow at the time, but the failure to lure Carl Hayman home in 2010 has been a major blessing for New Zealand rugby.

His absence has paved the way for new talent to emerge in surprisingly large numbers.

When Hayman was being courted in early 2010, the propping cupboard was alarmingly bare. Owen Franks looked promising in 2009 but was still only 21 and some way off being a foundation stone of the scrum. Neemia Tialata was the only other proven alternative back then and he had issues with his weight and dodgy knees.

In the end, Hayman said no. There was some cursing and fretting at the time - a few even wondered if that was the World Cup blown.

But what actually happened was that the NZRU didn't have to shell out close to $1 million a year to pay one man and Franks evolved quickly into a ferocious scrummager and all-round head-hunter who had the nasty streak and technical expertise to craft the All Black scrum into something deadly.

His growth was born of necessity and may not have been as quick or as impressive had Hayman returned.

Inevitably the former Highlander would have been entrusted with the All Black No 3 jersey through to the World Cup; the next generation would not have been so aggressively groomed.

But not only did Franks fast-track his development, a raft of other props have been nurtured to the cusp of the test scene. There are now seven men who look capable of playing test football.

In addition to the Franks brothers, there is Tony Woodcock, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Tameifuna and Ben Afeaki. How envious must the Wallabies be to look across the Tasman and see someone as good as Afeaki currently sitting outside the wider training group? New Zealand hasn't had talent like this before.

There have been times in the recent past where they thought they had. They called up the likes of Campbell Johnstone, Clarke Dermody, John Schwalger and Saimone Taumoepeau between 2004 and 2008 - but they flattered to deceive. The current crew of props look infinitely better prepared to make an impact and handle the demands.

Mike Cron, the All Black assistant coach and scrum guru, says the new arrivals in the wider training squad last week impressed him not just with their technical understanding and physical conditioning, but with their maturity, willingness to learn, ask questions and get through the hard work.

"This [depth of quality props] hasn't happened by accident," he says. "It's the result of a lot of hard work from a lot of people through the under-17 and under-20s programme.

"We are very lucky that a lot of quality All Blacks have come home as well and are putting something back - volunteering their time to coach these kids and that is so something that probably wouldn't be happening anywhere else in the world. These young guys now, because of the coaching and the systems they come through, have a really good understanding of what it means to be a professional in terms of training, diet and mental skills."

The other difference between the new breed and their predecessors is size. Taumoepeau was 105kg when he made his debut in 2004, Johnstone 110kg, Dermody 114kg and Schwalger 118kg.

Owen Franks was 120kg on debut and while that was not considerably heavier than his peers, his strength was off the scale. Tameifuna is listed at 138kg and Faumuina is 128kg.

Afeaki was 140kg when he was 17. He's down to about 130kg now and what impresses Cron is not only that these men have bulk and power, but that they are supremely mobile and athletic. Arguably, all of them are better already around the field than Hayman.

The big man was a quality scrummager and he could play a bit but not like the new men. Franks is a phenomenal tackler and an auxiliary loose forward almost at the breakdown.

Afeaki and Tameifuna are natural ball players and capable of subtle touches while Faumuina has been one of the best ball carriers at the Blues this season and last.

Ben Franks is better than all of them around the field, while Crockett can give and take a pass and is good for 80 minutes.

- Herald on Sunday

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 25 Jul 2014 20:22:57 Processing Time: 800ms