Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Dixon and Taufua set to challenge for Kaino's spot

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Elliot Dixon will challenge Jordan Taufua tonight at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin to sit in pole position to take on Jerome Kaino's All Blacks spot. Photo / Getty Images
Elliot Dixon will challenge Jordan Taufua tonight at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin to sit in pole position to take on Jerome Kaino's All Blacks spot. Photo / Getty Images

It was a no-brainer for so long. Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino were the best loose-forward trio in the land and the globe.

When the All Blacks are announced for the June tests, Read will step up to be the captain to replace Richie McCaw who hammered a full-stop on his sensational career with victory at the last World Cup.

What about Kaino? He's worn the black jersey in 67 tests and since 2009, when fit and available, he has dominated selection talk for his role as blindside flanker.

At times, Adam Thomson, Liam Messam and Victor Vito have pushed but when Kaino returned from a stint in Japan and was injury-free, he got the big tick.

This year he's had another shoulder niggle and that has bitten into his production and at 33, Kaino is working hard to keep his rivals at bay.

Two of them will square off tonight at the Glasshouse in Dunedin when the Crusaders attempt to add the Highlanders to their list of eight straight victims.

Elliot Dixon and Jordan Taufua are two in a mix of talented blindside flankers banging on the All Black selectors' door.

Both men shifted to get their Super rugby fix.

Dixon opted out of the Crusaders catchment to get regular work further south before Taufua upped sticks from the Counties region and bullocked his way into the Crusaders arena.

Dixon has carved out a substantial career and at 26, he has packed plenty of experience alongside his skills.

He's one of the gold tips in the pack and at 1.93m and 111kgs, is a ball-carrier, strong defender and lineout option and like Steven Luatua, Blade Thomson, Luke Whitelock, Taleni Seu and Vaea Fifita can fill-in at lock.

If he continues to be on the top line in statistics Dixon will change the status of the Highlanders as an All Black-free pack.

Taufua is younger and shorter and plays with a contagious sort of energy.

He smashes his way up and down the field, stopping rivals before they get to the advantage line or taking his chances to attack that with the ball.

He's got rough edges about his play but there's a fire and desire which coaches would love to channel.

He is a specialist flanker and in a game which rewards extra versatility, that may hinder his push for higher honours.

The All Black selectors may see it so differently.

They may like Taufua as a backup opensider which would increase his chances of a place in the squad.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- 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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