Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Just what's going on with picking Elliot Dixon?

Dixon earns his coin as a professional sportsman and as one of the highest rated loose forwards in New Zealand. Photo / www.photosport.nz
Dixon earns his coin as a professional sportsman and as one of the highest rated loose forwards in New Zealand. Photo / www.photosport.nz

Remind me of the facts. Elliot Dixon is a professional rugby player who was a key member of the Highlanders.

He made his test debut against Wales in June then churned on until the defending champions lost in the Super Rugby semifinals in late July.

Dixon made the cut for the Rugby Championship squad, trained all the way through but did not make a match-day 23 then popped up wearing Southland's colours this week in the national championship.

That was about seven weeks between games for the loose forward.

What does that tell us?

Dixon was allowed to play because he won't be in the front line in Argentina or South Africa, he asked to play because he's forgotten how or the selectors thought he needed a burst to get him back in test shape for the next assignment against the Pumas.

It tells me something is out of whack here or there is something we don't know. Was he struggling with an injury that needed rest, is there some issue with Southland maybe?

Dixon earns his coin as a professional sportsman and as one of the highest rated loose forwards in New Zealand; if he's not in the international 23 he should have been playing for his province.

He was in and around the All Blacks and there may be some clause in the players' collective agreement that prevented Dixon from weaving between national obligations and provincial assistance. James Parsons, Damian McKenzie and George Moala are others who have been scratched from provincial appearances after All Black interference this season.

There's no shortage of blindside flankers who could have been picked if Dixon was crocked playing for Southland.

The All Blacks have five-eighths coming out their ying-yang, hookers demanding pick-me performances but the granddaddy congestion of all is at blindside flanker.

Jerome Kaino has worn the No6 jersey with distinction through an illustrious career as the conga-line of congestion lengthens behind him.

Add Sam Whitelock to the list after he eased into those duties and scored a try against the Springboks when injury reshuffles were mixed in with substitutions.

That list has pushed deep into double figures if you think Patrick Tuipulotu or the promise of Michael Fatialofa, Taleni Seu, Jimmy Tupou and Blade Thomson.

Former All Blacks Steven Luatua and Luke Whitelock are hovering, Brad Shields has been mega-consistent and Vaea Fifita offers all sorts of possibilities.

There are others and the biggest frame and name among them is Akira Ioane. He chose to play sevens at the Olympics and still made headlines in Super Rugby. He's 21 and making an impact in the forwards while his younger brother Rieko, an outside back, was called in to help the All Black squad.

Who goes on the November tours for the All Blacks and the NZ Maori side - neither, one or both - and what about Dixon? The next two weeks are crucial for all of them.

- 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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