Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Twelve unlucky number for ABs

Diving into the talent pool.
Long-time All Blacks second-five Ma'a Nonu has left big boots to fill. Anton Lienert-Brown gets his shot in Wellington tomorrow.  Picture / Brett Phibbs
Long-time All Blacks second-five Ma'a Nonu has left big boots to fill. Anton Lienert-Brown gets his shot in Wellington tomorrow. Picture / Brett Phibbs

Hindsight is handy. It offers a truer perspective and broader assessment on many aspects, including sport.

Rugby is a sport where those in the All Black limelight come in for some hefty inspection. They are the most successful team in their code on the planet and the most heavily scrutinised.

Many accept it is no bad thing and is part of the jigsaw which means standards are kept at high levels.

Ma'a Nonu did that for the bulk of his 103 tests. He had an erratic start in 2003, battled through 18 internationals and was overlooked for the 2007 World Cup before gathering his mane, thoughts and skills to cement himself in the No12 jersey.

In the times when Nonu was out of sorts, injured, rested or franchise-hopping, Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty moved into action. They'd clicked over some hefty test experience and were being primed for this season.

Then it all went woozy in midfield for the All Blacks.

Charlie Ngatai could not conquer concussion to get back on the field, SBW conked out at Rio, Crotty took a knock to the swede and George Moala fell to a training ground injury.

Not that tomorrow's Wallabies rivals had it any easier.

Before the series, Christian Leali'ifano was diagnosed with leukaemia, experienced gun-for-hire Matt Giteau was injured early in Sydney and replacement Matt Toomua joined Crotty in the concussion tank.

There will be laments about the New Zealand Rugby stance on player eligibility in these times of second-five crisis and perhaps some suggestions the NZR gets pragmatic and waives or bends their rules to let Nonu shore up the problem.

Fat chance that will happen and who knows what sort of form the 36-year-old is carrying anyway? He was a fabulous player, an uncommon package of physical brutality who tacked on a range of passing, kicking and subtle skills which were too potent for most of his rivals. The important point is the past tense.

Nonu was great and now the All Blacks need to find a list of replacements. If they cling to the past as much as the Wallabies have been forced to, they will stagger and buckle as well.

This year, they have moved to another level. Are we lamenting the absence of Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter? We shouldn't be. Instead we should acknowledge their massive contributions and let the glow shine from their replacements.

Beauden Barrett has been superb and built on the form which took the Hurricanes to the Super Rugby title, while Sam Cane is complementing the experienced loosies.

The All Blacks have a truckload of midfield casualties, so this is when claims about depth of talent get a greater inspection. It's the time when the coaches have to go even deeper into their files and match those against their gut-feel and instincts.

Enter 21-year-old Anton Lienert-Brown on debut as All Black 1154 tomorrow at the Cake Tin. There is logic to his promotion as he worked the midfield with the Chiefs and was hovering around the All Black squad before they went to Sydney.

As they watch from various points on the globe, Richard Buckman, Rene Ranger and Bundee Aki might reflect on their injuries or decisions to play offshore.

Fortune is a significant part of rugby, while patience and perseverance cannot be discounted. Just ask deputy hooker James Parsons who will get a second cap after his debut from the blue in 2014.

- NZ Herald

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