Gregor Paul on rugby
Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Skills mean young Tom Taylor made for the job

By Gregor Paul, in Wellington

Qualities displayed on and off field have made No 10 decision easy one for coaches

Test footy is always a plunge into the unknown, yet it feels like there is little uncertainty about how Tom Taylor will handle his debut.

Since his impressive debut campaign for the Crusaders last year, his progression to an All Black jersey - even in an oversubscribed position - has seemed inevitable. What the selectors look for is skill sets: they see the component parts first and then determine, if it has not already been done, whether they can mould it all into a comprehensive package.

In Taylor they have a young man who has shown all the relevant attributes to be a test No10: he kicks long off both feet; he's unhurried in his passing; doesn't shirk the decision-making; defends strongly and goalkicks at about 90 per cent.

Every box is ticked which is why, despite having not played at first-five this year for the Crusaders, the All Blacks had no qualms selecting Taylor ahead of the more experienced and specialised Colin Slade.

"He's got the skill-set to play there and he's played there quite a bit before," said All Black coach Steve Hansen.

"At the camps he's slotted in at 12 and 13 and at 10 on a couple of occasions so he understands what we are trying to do with our patterns.

"He's come in seamlessly. He's got an attitude that he wants to be here and he knows a lot of guys here really well, which makes it a bit more comfortable.

"We don't need to upskill him - he's got enough skills of his own."

Taylor's goal-kicking is an obvious specific point of difference when compared with Slade. While his accuracy in front of goal was undoubtedly an influential factor in earning him the start, there were plenty of generics and gut feel leading the selectors to Taylor as it was.

Playing No10 is as much a mental battle as it is physical. Composure is everything; being able to cope with the speed of the decision-making and the relentless pressure that comes with that can break a fragile psyche.

Taylor hasn't given the first hint of fragility in his professional career. On the park he is methodical, off it he is yet another level-headed, down-to-earth product of a Canterbury development system that knows how to get the balance right between talent and ego.

It probably helps, too, that Taylor is the son of former All Black Warwick - the 1987 World Cup-winning midfielder.

"I suppose it is a little bit different for me," says Taylor. "It was something normal to have All Blacks to come into my house and be mucking about with Dad or whatever. I was lucky to have those people around me to help me."

Still, as much as proximity to All Blacks was part of his childhood, it's a different business altogether being one himself - especially as he had no inkling watching last weekend's test that such an outcome was on the cards.

"It was a bit of a shock. I didn't even realise there was anyone injured," he said.

"It has been a surreal week. I didn't think I would be here. The big challenge for me has been getting things into my head. I knew the game plan reasonably well - so that didn't take too long to get into my head.

"I have been learning the moves again and have had a good chance to run through all that at training. I feel like this time ... it is still a shock but I am ready to do the job."

However tough the past few days have been, the hard part for any new cap is the last 48 hours. That's when the nerves can grip, when the sense of occasion starts to feel overwhelming and the mind can begin to wear itself out with anxiety. It's a major positive and indicative of why Taylor has been picked that he is aware of the dangers that loom and conscious of how he can avoid them.

"I'm trying not to focus too much," he said.

"There can be a tendency to overload and play the game in your head a lot. I have been trying to learn as much as I can and relax.

"Come game time I will be really clear and pretend like it is a normal game. It is my chance to prove to myself and to everyone else that I can do it."

Like father, like son:

Warwick Taylor
Height: 1.79m
Weight: 79kg
Caps: 24
Position: Second-five
Debut: 1983 aged 23 versus British Lions

Tom Taylor
Height: 1.83m
Weight: 94kg
Caps: 0
Position: First-five/second-five/fullback
Debut: 2013 aged 24 versus Australia

- NZ Herald

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