Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Todd lands spare flanker position

All Black selectors' late change of plan brings Crusaders' No 7 into reckoning for French series

All Blacks new caps and Blues players, from left, Francis Saili, Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau have had only one full season of Super Rugby. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks new caps and Blues players, from left, Francis Saili, Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau have had only one full season of Super Rugby. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Number 7 is an extremely lucky numeral for new All Black Matt Todd. The Crusaders flanker wears that jersey number and was the beneficiary when the All Blacks selectors had a late change of plan about their initial 32-strong squad for the French series.

Injury and retirement had compressed the choice of locks from six to three and the panel decided not to choose a seventh such as Chiefs skipper Craig Clarke.

Instead they went for a backup openside flanker to Sam Cane and Todd got the congratulatory text message.

He edged Tanerau Latimer and Luke Braid for the extra place in the group to prepare for Saturday's opening international at Eden Park.

Kieran Read was named captain in place of the absent Richie McCaw, and is confident his latest neck/shoulder stinger will not impact on his readiness this week.

Injured senior lock Sam Whitelock was picked in a 32-strong group but at best will be available for only the third contest against the visitors at New Plymouth on June 22.

The Blues did well out of the selections with Charles Piutau, Francis Saili and Steven Luatua chosen after their first full season of Super Rugby.

The trio had only 13 Blues caps between them last year when they came in late as injury cover or after other rugby duties.

The other new caps are Chiefs prop Ben Afeaki, Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush and Todd.

Whitelock joined the All Blacks yesterday for an update on his damaged right ring finger.

"He will then go home for a week and can join up with us in Christchurch during the second test week for another assessment," coach Steve Hansen said.

"It just depends how well he mends in the first 10 days after his operation. If he gets through that without any complications then he might make it later in the series."

The All Blacks would have three locks with cover from Luatua who had played lock for much of his youthful career before switching to blindside last season.

"In having Matt [Todd] here, seven is going to have a big role in how we are going to play," said Hansen.

"We felt it was more important having someone know how we are going to play and be ready to go if need be, than bringing in what would effectively be a seventh lock.

"The obvious candidate to come in would have been Craig Clarke but he is only going to be here for a while before he goes overseas. We thought it gave us a better balance and we were prepared to take the risk when we lost Dominic Bird."

Todd nudged out Latimer and Braid in a close decision. "We felt his rounded overall game was more complete than the other contenders."

The bulk of the squad had been signposted by those called to the training camps with the toughest mission to trim the abundance of talented outside backs.

Winners

Matt Todd: Seemed on outer until last moment

Jeremy Thrush: Gets nod because of injuries

Beauden Barrett: Third first-five in squad

Tony Woodcock: Another injury kept him out of Highlanders' win

Losers

TJ Perenara: Form halfback, but time will come

Hosea Gear: Impending move may have cost him

Dominic Bird: Injured at precisely the wrong time

Frank Halai: Cut after attending training camps

- NZ Herald

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