Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Hore set to retire

Coach ready with a replacement when Andrew Hore farewells all rugby after last Championship game in Dunedin.

Andrew Hore, without a Super Rugby contract and four days from turning 35, will pull the pin on his test career before the All Blacks' end-of-year tour.

The veteran hooker has been coy in recent weeks, giving little clue as to what he plans to do next year now that he has cut ties with the Highlanders. But the Herald understands that he's almost certainly going to retire from test football - probably all rugby - after the Rugby Championship.

He may make himself available for the third Bledisloe Cup clash in Dunedin on October 19 so he can sign off on his home ground.

It's believed he's lost interest in playing again for the Highlanders after captaining them through a disastrous season.

The 14th place finish strained relations between senior players and head coach Jamie Joseph to the point where there has been an exodus of talent.

Hore can't see that he would have any interest in signing up for more and doesn't want to leave the region in search of Super Rugby.

As he's dubious about his prospects of hanging on until the next World Cup, it is understood he'll bow out later this year on his own terms.

Hore's probable unavailability for the European venture in November and beyond has increased the pressure on the All Blacks to find the next generation of young hookers.

It's also a major reason why All Black coach Steve Hansen began an apprentice scheme in mid-August, inviting one youngster to spend a week with the squad learning his craft under the tutelage of Hore and fellow veteran Keven Mealamu.

At least one, if not two young hookers are going to be taken on the end-of-year tour and Hansen and his coaching team want to get a close look at the various prospects before they make their final selections for the four-week trip to Japan and Europe.

Nathan Harris, the Bay of Plenty hooker, has been called in to spend this coming week with the squad.

Harris was the New Zealand under-20 hooker last year and despite not making Super Rugby in 2013, is rated highly by the All Black coaching staff.

"He's an under-20 player and a young guy. We like the look of him. We're just having a look at as many people as we can, really," said Hansen.

"We're getting to know them and seeing what they're like. They're certainly getting something out of it. If you spoke to the two boys who have already been in I think they've enjoyed their experience. It's a two-way thing."

Liam Coltman of the Highlanders was the first to be called up, followed by Rhys Marshall of the Chiefs and these two plus Harris will be competing for tour places alongside Mealamu and Dane Coles.

While the specifics are yet to play out, the general picture with the national hookers is starting to become clearer. Mealamu has not been required in the past two tests and that is partly about keeping him fresh for later in the year when he will probably shoulder the burden of the work.

He has also recently signed a contract extension that guarantees he will be here next year with an option to stay on in 2015. Hansen has always hoped that one of his two veterans would at least try to push on until 2015.

The value of Mealamu is not just the wisdom he can pass on, but the role he plays in the All Black leadership group and also his ability to graft a solid 60 minutes on the field on limited preparation or background form.

Andrew Hore

Tests: 79
Debut: vs England, Twickenham 2002
Test starts: 44
Tries: 8
Next in line - Options to replace Hore in the end-of-year tour:
Liam Coltman (Highlanders)
Rhys Marshall (Chiefs)
Nathan Harris (Bay of Plenty)

- NZ Herald

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