Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Faumuina gets chance to push for spot

Prop Charlie Faumuina will be fighting Owen Franks for a berth when the All Blacks play the Wallabies in Sydney. Photo / Greg Bowker
Prop Charlie Faumuina will be fighting Owen Franks for a berth when the All Blacks play the Wallabies in Sydney. Photo / Greg Bowker

A false start in June has turned into a podium finish for Blues tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina, who is the only new cap in the All Black squad for the inaugural Rugby Championship.

The 25-year-old prop will aim to turn that selection into gold as he challenges Owen Franks for a berth when the All Blacks begin their programme against the Wallabies in Sydney on August 18.

The selectors have picked a 12 backs, 16 forwards mix, with Cory Jane's return to fitness forcing Zac Guildford out of the backs while Faumuina's inclusion means an exit for Chiefs sensation Ben Tameifuna.

Conrad Smith has been included but his recovery from eye surgery means he will miss the opening two tests, so Sonny Bill Williams is primed to come in for those internationals if negotiations with his next employer, Panasonic, and the NZRU get sorted.

The championship would show the All Blacks how they rated, said coach Steve Hansen, and what areas they needed to improve.

As Hansen offered his explanations, the blinds in the conference room offered some Fawlty Towers amusement as they started their own noisy raise and lower routine.

The All Blacks will assemble on Thursday and work for a week before heading to Sydney and the start of their mid-year test cycle.

It had been a straightforward selection made easier because Ali Williams had not recovered from knee surgery so the selectors chose to boost their loose forward mix with the addition of Liam Messam.

The advice from All Black Dr Deb Robinson was not convincing about Williams returning for the last two championship tests so the panel decided to stay with three locks and boost their looseforward mix.

"Ali has just been rescanned and he has some bone bruising in the joint. We just felt it would be easier to make a clear-cut choice.

"He will spend a bit of time with us rehabbing because we feel that's going to be important for him to get back on the track as soon as we can get him there to judge his form and for the selection for the end-of-year form."

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie had pushed for Messam, who had shown regular improvement on the blindside.

"You need some intensity and he brings that defensively and with ball in hand and he has really grown this year," he said.

" I have been really impressed with the man, he has grown a lot in regards to the way he is playing the game. He certainly has a harder edge about him."

Hansen said Kieran Read would act as cover for a fourth lock if that is needed in the six test duels with the Wallabies, Springboks and Pumas.

Another lock, Luke Romano, would be fit from his shoulder problem for the opening test with the Wallabies but was an uncertain starter for this week's practice hit-out at Pukekohe.

The All Blacks planned to take a third halfback on tour at the end of the year and if Tawera Kerr-Barlow continued his form and fitness he would be right in the frame for that selection.

For now they wanted a blend of youth and experience with Aaron Smith and Piri Weepu.

Hansen said Sonny Bill Williams had cherished his time in the All Black jersey and was rapt to be asked to help out again before he headed overseas.

"Sometimes in New Zealand we don't like people who are a little different. It [his exit] doesn't say he does not care about his country. We know he does and when I spoke to him about this opportunity he couldn't answer quick enough with a yes."

Williams had never played the Wallabies and if the selectors had not picked him as a replacement, Hansen imagined he would have received six public lashings.

The All Blacks will play two 20-minute spells against Counties Manukau and then Auckland on Friday at Pukekohe Stadium as part of their buildup and the provincial sides' progress towards the start of the ITM Cup.

NEW ZEALAND SQUAD

Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Tony Woodcock, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Kieran Read, Adam Thomson.

Victor Vito, Aaron Smith, Piri Weepu, Daniel Carter, Aaron Cruden, Tamati Ellison, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Israel Dagg, Hosea Gear, Cory Jane, Ben Smith, Julian Savea.

- NZ Herald

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