Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Taniwha holds AB's heart

The France-bound centre chooses to play out his days in New Zealand in the colours of his beloved Northland.

Rene Ranger will captain the Taniwha in the ITM cup. Photo / Getty Images
Rene Ranger will captain the Taniwha in the ITM cup. Photo / Getty Images

Rene Ranger will be the surprise omission from the All Black squad named today, the Blues utility back having decided to see out his remaining time in New Zealand playing provincial rather than international rugby.

A staunch and proud Northlander, Ranger will captain the Taniwha in the ITM cup believing that is a more fitting way to bring down the curtain on his career here than being, in all probability, a bit player from the bench during the Rugby Championship.

Despite the fact Ranger will shift to Montpellier once the ITM Cup is finished, the All Blacks were still keen to select him for the Rugby Championship. But knowing that his long-term future lies elsewhere and given the amount of time he has already spent away from home this year - Ranger and his partner had their first child earlier this year - he told All Black coach Steve Hansen that he wasn't available.

Ranger's choice is bold and admirable in the current age and one that no doubt many other provincial bosses hope may become the norm for departing All Blacks.

The value of having Ranger available all campaign is massive.

Then there are the messages it sends - that provincial rugby still captures the heart in a way that other levels of the game don't. Ranger is making a statement that Northland is where it all began for him and he's made a decision to give something back. Would he have been offered a $600,000 a year contract in France had it not been the for the effort and resources invested in him by the Taniwha?

Ranger's decision means Northland have the potential to light up the ITM Cup as not only will they have the explosive and high impact Ranger - they will also have Fijian international Rupeni Caucaunibuca in their ranks.

Those two could be a deadly package with the latter reportedly having shed much of the weight he has carried for the past few years.

The rest of the All Black squad announcement is expected to be fairly routine.

The squad will be trimmed from 31 - as there were for the June internationals - to 28, although three extra players will be able to train with the squad during the week.

Richie McCaw returns from his sabbatical and that will most likely see Matt Todd relegated to one of the three extra places. Charlie Faumuina, unavailable for the June test because of injury, is expected to be named instead of Chiefs prop Ben Afeaki, with young Crusader Joe Moody called up as temporary cover for the injured Wyatt Crockett.

The front row will be one of the pressure points in the Rugby Championship as match day squads will be increased to 23 players and the tests will be played under new, experimental scrum laws where both teams have to pre-bind before the initial engagement.

There has been some talk from within the All Blacks that they would look to rotate Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore - with one being selected for the Rugby Championship along with Dane Coles, and then swapping. That would mean the man who didn't play in the Rugby Championship would be selected for the end of season tour.

It may be, though, with the scrummaging and lineout threat posed by the South Africans and Argentinians, that Hansen feels the need to have both veteran hookers in the squad.

There is also some uncertainty as to whether he will name two or three halfbacks in the 28. Last year the All Blacks worked with two until the end of year tour when they called up Tawera Kerr-Barlow to support Piri Weepu and Aaron Smith.

- Herald on Sunday

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