Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Big time beckons for Charlie

After missing out on the Ireland series due to injury, Charlie Faumuina is expected to be called up for the Rugby Championship. Photo / Anthony Au-Yeung
After missing out on the Ireland series due to injury, Charlie Faumuina is expected to be called up for the Rugby Championship. Photo / Anthony Au-Yeung

Steve Hansen will name 28 players on August 5 for the Rugby Championship and the expectation is that Blues prop Charlie Faumuina will be the one new cap.

Cory Jane will return, Jarrad Hoeata may be an interim replacement for Ali Williams and Zac Guildford and Beauden Barrett will drop out.

The biggest call to be made will be at loose forward, where Hansen has to decide between Adam Thomson and Liam Messam. There will be room for only one and the picture has been clouded by the quality performance Messam delivered in the third test against Ireland and again for the Chiefs against the Crusaders on Friday night.

Thomson, a reliable and durable performer who can and has featured across the back row, was ahead of Messam when the squad was initially picked to play Ireland. Injury reduced his impact and game time in the series, while Messam, not originally chosen, was called up for the final test. After years of false starts, he delivered exactly the sort of uncompromising, punishing performance that had been beyond him in previous appearances.

Thomson's greater experience, range and ability at the lineout are likely to see him retain his place but he's held off re-signing with the Highlanders until the squad is confirmed. If he's no longer required, he has indicated he'll probably shift overseas.

The other likely changes have been well flagged by the coaching panel. Faumuina would have been in the squad to play Ireland had he not been injured - as would Jane, by some distance the best wing in the country. Guildford was the wing to shine the least in the series against Ireland and will be asked to use the ITM Cup to prove he has the skills required to beat defenders one on-one.

Barrett, at just 21, is a longer-term prospect and would be unlikely to play or win bench time with Daniel Carter and Aaron Cruden available.

His development would be better served by steering Taranaki through the ITM Cup and then most likely being recalled for the end of year tour.

Williams is recovering from knee surgery and, despite his lack of impact to date, remains part of Hansen's plans. The big lock isn't expected to be fit in time for the opening games, which will most likely lead to a fourth choice being brought in to support Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano until Williams is declared fit.

Hoeata had a quiet Super Rugby campaign but is capped and the sort of ruthless character the All Blacks like for that role. He's expected to be in the wider training squad - which will not include Chiefs players involved in this weekend's Super 15 final. Jason Eaton may make a surprise return in that group whose number has not yet been determined.

Had Tom Donnelly not been heading to Japan, he may have been the go-to man - an experienced performer who could step in at short notice for a couple of tests.

The panel are keen to build their depth at second-five eighths now they have lost Sonny Bill Williams. But while the likes of Ryan Crotty, Tim Bateman and Andrew Horrell may all be named in the wider training squad, it's unlikely any will be retained in the final 28.

For the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks feel they are covered. Nonu could play all six tests if he's fit and injuries can be covered by shifting Carter to second five and Cruden to first, with Ben Smith and Ellison also capable in either midfield role.

- Herald on Sunday

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