Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Charlie Ngatai at top of All Blacks conversation

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Chiefs second five Charlie Ngatai. Photo / Getty Images.
Chiefs second five Charlie Ngatai. Photo / Getty Images.

Four tries guarantees you will hog the headlines.

So it came to pass for Chiefs second five Charlie Ngatai who nailed the quartet against the Force and became the 12th player since Super rugby started to notch that record tally in one match.

The All Black selectors will not be swayed by those numbers but will be heavily influenced by the other data Ngatai is compiling at this stage of the season.

He's nearing 50 games in his sixth season of Super rugby which point to understudy and utility roles at the Hurricanes, then frustrating injuries at the Chiefs before digging into regular time in the 12 or 13 jerseys.

The Chiefs coaches and All Black selectors will trust his frame is becoming more hardened to the demands of regular rugby here and abroad. All the talent is there.

All the conditioning too. That ability to go the distance will linger strongly with the All Black selectors after Ngatai hacked on and chased a loose ball to force a turnover and emerge with his fourth try in the final stages of the Chiefs win against the Force.

He's not as big as teammate Sonny Bill Williams but at 1.87m and 102kgs has plenty of sting for the physical combat and breakdown collisions in midfield while his range of kicking, passing and deceptive skills are all on the rise.

The 25-year-old Ngatai earned his first All Black cap from the bench last year and is poised to add to that if his form and health persist.

He plays centre or second five but with Malakai Fekitoa humming at centre the All Blacks may consider Ngatai more in the frontline to replace Ma'a Nonu.

His rivals will be Williams when his sevens duties finish, Ryan Crotty and George Moala, perhaps Fekitoa or maybe a repaired Rene Ranger if the selectors decide Ngatai's growing skill is a better fit at centre to help promote the back four.

As the All Black selectors tap down into the qualities of the contenders they will be looking for how all the contenders communicate and connect with their teammates, what calls they make under pressure.

One of Conrad Smith's tasks was to organize the men around him and to connect with whomever was wearing the No 10 and 15 jerseys. Those lines of communication were crucial for the deployment of first phase attack to defensive spacing and alignment.

Is Fekitoa that voice from centre or does Ngatai offer more direction in that role after stints as NZ Maori captain?

Those answers will not appear for another few months but if the pair stay intact and keep feeding strong performances, they will be at the top of the conversation list around the All Black selection table.

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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.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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