League: Dilemma for Kiwis coach

By Michael Brown

Abundance of talent leaves Kearney having to choose between two skilled props.

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is one of the most powerful front-rowers in the game. Photo / Getty Images
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is one of the most powerful front-rowers in the game. Photo / Getty Images

One stands 1.96m, weighs close to 130kg and goes by the nickname Dogzilla and the other has been described as a wrecking ball, but the reality is Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney will probably have to omit one from his team to face Scotland on Saturday morning (NZT).

It wasn't that long ago that it was often a case of who to put in rather than who to leave out of the New Zealand side but Kearney and assistant Ivan Cleary have some difficult decisions to make as the Kiwis head into the knockout phase of the World Cup.

The defending champions base a large part of their game around forward dominance and have arguably the best pack at the World Cup.

The biggest selection dilemma will be around which world-class front-rower to leave for their quarter-final in Leeds, assuming Kearney opts to go with his best playing 17.

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is an automatic choice as one of the most powerful front-rowers in the game, and Jesse Bromwich and Ben Matulino are also likely starters.

That would mean either Sam Kasiano or Sam Moa being left out of the four-prop rotation.

Kasiano and Moa present compelling cases for inclusion for different reasons.

Kasiano, who is the only one of the five props to have played in all three games so far, is huge (officially 1.96m and 122kg but closer to 130kg) but also has soft hands and a good engine.

Dogzilla, as he's often referred to, is comfortable playing the ball at the line and has produced seven offloads at the World Cup, which is second only in the Kiwis squad to Sonny Bill Williams (12).

Moa is a lot more compact (1.83m and 105kg) and very direct. It's rare for him to produce an offload but he often provides a quick-play-the-ball, which is when hooker Issac Luke is at his most dangerous, and has a high work-rate (55 tackles).

Bromwich admitted there was a little nervousness in the camp around the naming of the side.

"We don't talk much about [the competition among the props] but we all quietly know about it," the Melbourne front-rower said.

"It's a competitive team and everyone wants to be playing. Once you get that chance you have to really take it."

Most of the rest of the playing 17 has been well signalled, particularly in the backline, but the other main consideration is which loose forward option to carry on the bench between Greg Eastwood, Alex Glenn and Frank-Paul Nu'uausala.

Only utility Thomas Leuluai (groin) is unavailable, although Sonny Bill Williams (shoulder and flu), Manu Vatuvei (knee), Josh Hoffman (shoulder) and Frank Pritchard (knee) all skipped training yesterday as they recover from niggles.

The Scottish will be without second-rower Dale Ferguson, who has been banned for two games for a grapple tackle but is considering an appeal, although centre Kane Linnett (ribs) and hooker Ian Henderson (knee) should both return after missing last weekend's 22-8 win over the US.

The Kiwis should beat Scotland easily on Saturday, regardless of which 17 they select, but Cleary said it was important they saw improvement.

"As a team, there's a fair way to go," he said.

"Combinations are starting to get better. As a team we are going to have to play better but individuals are playing well and that's a good sign."

- NZ Herald

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