Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Mealamu substitute a constant dilemma

Keven Mealamu. Photo / Getty Images
Keven Mealamu. Photo / Getty Images

So Kevvy returned to the Super 15 field last night. Nothing against the champion Blues hooker but I only believed it when I saw it.

He's had so many false starts in the past few seasons because of calf strains, twinges and tears that it was hard to believe those pistons would carry him on to the Cake Tin.

There could have been a niggle in the warmup stretches, his tags might have slipped on the dressing room floor or become caught in a clump of paspalum as he went through his throwing routines.

Mealamu is a remarkable specimen, a terrific man and a hell of a rugby player who has played more Super Rugby than anyone else in Aotearoa. He has also played 110 tests for the All Blacks. Perseverance is his middle name and a slogan he has lived up to and beyond since he first ran into Super Rugby combat in 2000. The man will not lie down, at least not until he is ordered to by the medical staff.

In recent campaigns that has been the directive as his calves deny him the repeat explosive work he is renowned for. Until last night he had managed half a game for the Blues this year so the work has fallen to James Parsons and Tom McCartney.

Mealamu's ongoing predicament opens the All Black role even wider with the candidates, on the evidence of the Super 15, hardly flourishing.

There are enough of them - Dane Coles, Corey Flynn, Ben Funnell, Codey Taylor, Liam Coltman, Rhys Marshall, Parsons and McCartney - but none offering compelling selection cases. You may as well throw in a wildcard like Ben Tameifuna or turn Luke Braid into a hooker - Earle Kirton would love that sort of invention.

It is an issue. Andrew Hore has bandy-legged it out in the Maniatoto backblocks, Mealamu is on daily medical watch while Coles, now a 15-test All Black, is warming to his work with the Hurricanes.

Their lineout is reasonable and their scrum a little shaky, which is standard under the frustrating laws. Around the field, Coles bustles with the best and has the instincts of a fourth loose-forward.

The old and the new met last night in Wellington at the start of a four-match sequence for the Blues who need a resurgent Mealamu to add some starch to the tight five and the side's mental sting.

That impact alongside the flinty Braid and Jerome Kaino is a must for the Blues in their next section of the tournament.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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