Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Ranger holding no regrets at Montpellier move

On the day it was announced that Rene Ranger would start his first test for the All Blacks in three years, the Blues player finally confirmed his move to French club Montpellier.

It was a poignant moment for the 26-year-old, for his statistics don't do his talent justice. Against France at Yarrow Stadium tomorrow night he will be playing only his sixth test, a number so low when compared to his talent as to be almost ridiculous.

It will be only his second start - his first was against the Springboks in Wellington in 2010. After an absence of three years, Ranger has taken the opportunities, which injuries to Richard Kahui and Cory Jane have provided, and forced his way into an All Blacks backline which looked mightily impressive in Christchurch last weekend.

Dan Carter, returning to lead the backline after recovering from a hand injury which kept him out of the first two tests, knows the value of having an impact player such as Ranger in close proximity.

"He's one of those players - you want him to get his hands on the ball as often as possible," says Carter. "He plays with a lot of confidence and more often than not he'll get you over the gain line and create opportunities."

The momentum Ranger provided from the reserves bench in Auckland and Christchurch has compelled the All Blacks selectors to try him from the opening whistle, but the origins of his form can be traced back to February.

Backed by Blues coach Sir John Kirwan to play his natural game from the midfield, Ranger would no longer be chopped and changed from centre to wing as he was in Pat Lam's dysfunctional Blues backline of last year.

Kirwan, a former All Black wing, has done well to knock the edges off, to mould Ranger into a centre who is a real threat on attack and defence, one who now invariably takes the right options.

"The Blues have been great this year, with different coaches and management staff and a whole lot of [new] players," Ranger says. "So it's been refreshing and JK has put a lot of faith in me to play my game, not chopping and changing me all the time. I think the boys are pretty happy that they have come so far from last year."

To borrow a French phrase, his joie de vivre on the field, whether it was the smiley face drawn on the tape around his wrist or his willingness to charge into anyone with or without the ball, will be missed. His "exuberant enjoyment of life" will be France's gain and New Zealand's loss.

This isn't meant to be a eulogy, though. As Ranger said yesterday, he has no regrets. He will also be earning a considerable amount of money.

"No, I wouldn't use regret as a word. I still made the team here, I still made the All Blacks, so I'm pretty happy," Ranger says.

His decision was made months ago and based on the fact he simply didn't think he would be in the position now where he demanded a place in the All Blacks squad.

"It was one of those decisions I was looking at earlier in the year," he says of his signing with Montpellier, a club based in the city on the south coast of France. "I didn't actually think I would be in this team. We had Richard Kahui, Tamati [Ellison], Cory Jane. I thought I was still behind them. For me to get here now, I'm pretty happy. [But] I'm still excited at the same time [about moving to France]."

Asked if he would prefer to have delayed a move, he replies: "Of course. I'm finally in the team, it's a great environment now and different to how it was in 2010 but my mind was up and down back then. I made up my mind for family reasons and different challenges because I didn't think I would get here."

He might not have too many regrets about moving, but the New Zealand rugby public might, not to mention the All Blacks selectors. The crowd's anticipation at Eden Park and AMI Stadium went up several notches every time the shaggy-haired ball of muscle received the ball and he would have been an obvious replacement for Conrad Smith when the centre takes his sabbatical.

Indeed, Hansen suggested Ranger could have a role to play in the midfield tomorrow night - more so than Ben Smith, who is likely to make the switch at the end of the year.

For now, every match Ranger plays for the All Blacks, Blues and, excitingly, Northland, could be his last. The Rugby Championship, which starts in August, will be his swansong for the national team.

Asked if he might be eligible to play in the Heineken Cup European competition with Montpellier, Ranger replied: "I'm not too sure, I'm just keen to play some rugby."

A familiar Ranger attitude, and one which will be missed - in New Zealand at least.

- NZ Herald

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