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Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

All Blacks: Can Piri Weepu make a comeback?

The last 12 months have been a roller-coaster for Piri Weepu. Photo / Christine Cornege
The last 12 months have been a roller-coaster for Piri Weepu. Photo / Christine Cornege

It's almost 11 months to the day since Piri Weepu played Argentina in the World Cup quarterfinal and scored a career-best 21 points as he took on the All Blacks' goal-kicking duties in the absence of the injured Dan Carter.

How things have changed for the All Blacks halfback, who played such a major role in that match but is now unsure of his form because he is struggling to get a game.

Now considered a back-up to newcomer Aaron Smith for the national team, Weepu, who turns 29 on Friday, battled for game-time for the Blues this season and couldn't even get a start for Auckland against Canterbury last week after he missed a team training session due to the launch of his book.

In what is becoming a regular occurrence, he was relegated to the reserves bench yet again.

"I'm not too sure at this stage, I haven't had a lot of rugby to say whether I have or not [got back up to speed]," Weepu said today.

"I guess once I get a better understanding on how my game fitness and things like that are going then I'll probably have a reasonable understanding from there."

Many observers aren't sure of his form either, which is why he was a controversial selection by Steve Hansen and co, but the former Wellingtonian looked in much leaner shape at All Blacks training at Westpac Stadium today, compared to his figure when playing for the Blues against the Hurricanes at the same venue on May 4.

Following criticisms of his fitness and commitment - Weepu had reported to his new franchise overweight and at one point during the summer tipped the scales at 106kg - he took on extra conditioning sessions and the hard work appears to have paid off.

Whether that results in extra game time remains to be seen, but it's likely Weepu will have to get used to his back-up role.

Considering the rise of young rivals Smith, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and TJ Perenara, who all displayed superb form during this year's Super Rugby competition, Weepu's value to the All Blacks has been questioned.

But, given he can cover two positions and kick goals he does provide a valuable option from the bench, which has probably contributed to the fact that 39 of his 61 test appearances have come from there.

The real test of where Weepu figures in the eyes of the selectors will be whether or not he is selected for the end of year tour. Hansen will probably want to take three halfbacks, with Smith a shoo-in and Kerr-Barlow and Perenara knocking hard on the door.

Weepu has played a cameo role in each of New Zealand's five tests this year - all victories - and his next opportunity to show he still has a few miles left in his legs will come on Saturday night when the All Blacks host Argentina in Wellington.

Unfortunately for him, he probably won't play a major role following his calm and assured performance against them at a critical time last year but he knows as well as anyone that the new boys on the Rugby Championship block shouldn't be underestimated.

"You can't really take them for granted," he said. "This is going to be a big test for us. We know what they're capable of, they've proven over the past World Cup campaigns that they can match it with any team in the competition. So for them, come this Saturday, they'll definitely be proving that point."

- APNZ

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