Wynne Gray on sport
Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Ranger may be missed most at the breakdown

Rene Ranger makes a break against the Jaguares. Photo / Getty Images
Rene Ranger makes a break against the Jaguares. Photo / Getty Images

A return to Super rugby taxed Rene Ranger probably more than he envisaged.

He spent a couple of seasons playing for Montpelier then got an early release to return to North Harbour, the Blues and perhaps the All Blacks. Memories of his rousing work through to his 2013 departure, returned to fill NZ rugby nostrils.

Ranger at his spontaneous best, the free-wheeling, attack the line, keep the ball alive bundle of destructive rugby talent had been one of the rare twinkles amongst the Blues woes. Bring it on.

Stage one in provincial rugby never happened because Ranger battled to return to full physical peak after neck surgery.

He made it back for a pre-season Super rugby trial game and showed glimpses of the ground and pound approach which made him such a dangerous competitor and fan favourite.

Ranger was short of match conditioning but that would come. New coach Tana Umaga delivered the heat about fitness and how rugby had changed significantly during Ranger's offshore venture.

If he wanted to play centre, his skills and decision-making were imperative elements alongside the core basics.

The Blues and Ranger eased into action. His first start was against the Crusaders, at centre, and there was not much to enthuse about any of the Blues in their 28-13 loss.

Next up Ranger was on the wing against the Hurricanes, missed the draw with the Reds before switching back to centre against the Jaguares, Chiefs and Sharks.

Some of his work particularly at the breakdown was impressive, maybe even better than the old version where he would smash opponents on defence and then emerge with pilfered possession from the subsequent scramble.

It was gold when Ranger's shaggy head emerged and cradled the stolen ball.

An offload as he was felled against the Chiefs was a terrific piece of awareness from himself and Ihaia West in support. Round the corner fumbles or forward passes he pushed against the Sharks at the weekend were not so flash.

There was also a sense Ranger preferred to run into contact when evasion or distribution would deliver better options for the Blues.

He had the look of someone whose best production would have been in a roving commission with a license to invent and have a crack. There are still demands at centre about structure and formation which are not the go-to Ranger methods.

Maybe a free-wheeling role on the wing?

It was awkward because youngsters Reiko Ioane and Tevita Li have so much gas on the flanks where they can spook any opposition but with Ioane set for another sevens stint there was an opening.

Then late in the first half against the Sharks at Eden Park, Ranger ruptured his ACL knee ligaments in an awkward tackle and all the supposition, conjecture and theory about his contribution went the same way as his season.

- NZ Herald

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