Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Time ticking for fringe ABs

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Test regulars such as Israel Dagg have to get a serious wriggle on. Photo / Richard Robinson
Test regulars such as Israel Dagg have to get a serious wriggle on. Photo / Richard Robinson

Aspiring All Blacks have about four games of Super Rugby to reinforce their credentials or risk having a line put through their names for the June test series with England.

Coach Steve Hansen and his selectors will stick with most who went on the last tour to Europe but there will be vacancies because some have not regained any form as the next wave of talent advances.

Test regulars such as Israel Dagg have to get a serious wriggle on while a group of others including Richie McCaw, Aaron Cruden and Luke Romano need their injuries to heal so they can return to action. Others who were in the last squad such as Frank Halai, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara and Luke Whitelock need to get more finesse and bite into their work to earn repeat selection.

The Crusaders, Blues and Chiefs have another bye before June and with the squad usually chosen well ahead of assembly, that further reduces the chances to impress. A year ago the All Black panel chose 32 players for the opening three test series with France and if they repeat that number, some under-performing players will get a reprieve.

The most contentious selection zone will be in the loose forwards. The panel needs to settle on six from a group of Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino, Victor Vito, Whitelock, McCaw, Sam Cane, Matt Todd, Tanerau Latimer, Luke Braid, Liam Messam and Steven Luatua.

That is overlooking the promising but injured Brad Shields, project Ardie Savea, workaholic Shane Christie and the ineligible Jack Lam.

A form XV at this stage would be dominated by those who have played for the All Blacks, while the injured McCaw, Cruden, Ma'a Nonu, concussed Read and recycled Keven Mealamu will bolt in if fit.

Picking this side is about seeing who has produced a body of consistent work since the Super 15 started in February.

The Smiths, Ben, Conrad and Aaron, get big ticks, Julian Savea has caught fire, Ryan Crotty has been ultra reliable, Cruden a gem, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock have been outstanding and there has been a grinding advance from frontrowers.

Around those there are holes. On the right wing, Cory Jane found a flame against the Blues but struggled with injury, form and selection before that. There are loose forward puzzles complicated by injury and tighthead questions about form.

At the midpoint in the competition, a form XV rather than a reputation XV would be: Ben Smith, Richard Buckman, Conrad Smith, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Ben Tameifuna, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett.

Others such as Charles Piutau and Braid have shown out among the fitful Blues; Tom Marshall, Tim Nanai-Williams and Rhys Marshall are making sorties with the Chiefs; Beauden Barrett is all class at the Canes; Colin Slade is reviving memories at the Crusaders and Malakai Fekitoa, Christie Shane and Lima Sopoaga have churned out strong work for the Highlanders.

Men may be lost overseas and others are ineligible, but there is still a swag of talent waiting to be honed to test level.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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