League: Kearney facing a selection dilemma

By Paul Lewis

Ben Matulino had a strong showing against France. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Matulino had a strong showing against France. Photo / Getty Images

Rotation is understandable but the Kiwis' imperfect 48-0 win over France yesterday raised the issue of whether, in a short tournament, it might have been better to foster combinations.

Coach Stephen Kearney undertook to give all his players a run in World Cup pool play and, while the Kiwis are notoriously slow starters, they have still shown little so far to worry likely finalists Australia or even England, their probable semifinal opponents against whom they have come unstuck before.

In their two matches, the Kiwis have demonstrated a perplexing ability to let the opposition back into the game (Samoa) and, even with a 48-0 scoreline, a sometimes puzzling lack of penetration against a French team who defended stoutly for two-thirds of the game but who seemed amazed at the concept of an attacking kick on the last tackle.

True, they were robbed of two first half tries when pedantic video refereeing found faults that did not seem to exist but, other than the dancing feet of winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and some late running from Shaun Johnson, their main attacking weapon seemed to be Issac Luke from dummy half.

Luke had a fine game but the Englands and Australias of this world will not let him take such liberties.

It raises the question of whether Kearney was better to have settled on a first team or most of a first team and to turn them out consistently, allowing those in close competition for places to stake their claim. There is such a thing as showing your hand too early but the Kiwis have yet to demonstrate the execution needed to defend their title.

The selection for Friday's test against Papua New Guinea will be interesting, with only a few candidates from yesterday's match advancing their claims for inclusion in the top team (as opposed to certainties like Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Simon Mannering, among others):

Ben Matulino - sidelined for long periods during this game but gave some all-round steel and more offload options when he was on.

Frank Pritchard - one woefully hopeful effort at an offload but a strong all-round performance; ran well and showed he can also be a ball player with some good passes.

Sam Kasiano - probably being used the right way, off the bench. Strong effort.

Greg Eastwood - did well against moderate opposition.

Shaun Johnson - talked before the game about doing the basics well and did so; many would still like to see him take a game by the scruff of the neck more but that can come. Not as defensively solid as the injured Thomas Leuluai but gives the Kiwis a fine show of scoring more points than the opposition.

Tuivasa-Sheck - one of the wing berths is surely his now.

Bryson Goodwin - better effort though the opposition was not as good as the Samoans, who monstered him in the first game. Krisnan Inu, quiet yesterday, appeals as a better bet but Kearney may be worried about his ability to turn in a shocker every now and then.

Those who didn't advance their cause included:

Kevin Locke - looks behind Josh Hoffman's all-round ability now on attack and defence.

Jason Nightingale - fine finisher and few mistakes but doesn't have the attacking ability of Tuivasa-Sheck or a fit Manu Vatuvei.

Frank-Paul Nu'uausala - scored two tries, and a handful going forward but shows a distressing tendency for giving away penalties.

- Herald on Sunday

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