The hard work for new and old lies ahead, writes CHRIS RATTUE.
All Black prospect Marty Holah has a keen sense of Waikato history.
It involves plenty of close calls, and faded dreams, when it comes to the national side - players close enough to get a taste, but unable to hold down a place.
The 24-year-old Holah, so impressive in his rookie Super 12 season that he was a training-squad certainty, hopes to change that.
"You can look at all the Waikato players who sort-of got there, but for whatever reason were not able to stay there," Holah said in Hamilton. "What I'm aiming for is a permanent place."
Despite vigorous efforts in 20-odd games for Waikato during two seasons, which even raised reminders of Josh Kronfeld's body-on-the-line approach, openside flanker Holah was a rank outsider for All Black selection.
He was not sure whether even a Super 12 contract would come his way, and wondered if his leisure-studies degree would be needed to make ends meet.
Holah did not rate a start in John Mitchell's opening line-up against the Waratahs, where Duncan Blaikie, Hamilton-born but Otago rugby-raised, took the field.
But in that losing game, Blaikie wrecked an eye socket, and Holah has not blinked since.
Where openside loose forwards can be turned into pulp by the constant demands of foraging for the ball as angry friend and foe smash in from all sides for a second helping, Holah's iron will has shone out.
He has also shown an ability to run with the ball, and throw the right pass. It will be no surprise if he starts ahead of Scott Robertson when the test season begins.
The startling thing about his rise is that Holah, the most dominant of New Zealand players in his position this year, has never played for a national side.
After playing in the Roller Mills stuff as a 13-year-old, he missed Waikato representative teams until leaving school and making the under-19s.
"I think I got picked in a northern regions side around that time," Holah said last night.
He was also on the fringe of the national sevens team, but that is hardly the place for a hard-nosed flanker, charged with dominating the ground warfare, to make his name.
His selection in the All Black training squad is another major tick for the work done by Chiefs coach Mitchell and his assistant, Kevin Greene, this year.
Holah, Roger Randle, Mark Ranby, Keith Lowen and the recalled Mark Cooksley have all gained this early season reward, and none would have figured in most calculations going into the season.
With Wellington loose forward Jerry Collins, Canterbury lock Chris Jack, and Otago prop Carl Hayman, they are early pinpoints in Wayne Smith's vision for the future.
Like all new All Blacks/squad/training camp selections, the elevation of Holah and company is surrounded by a burst of enthusiasm.
But now, more than ever in All Black history, with Australia in particular streaking ahead in performance and tactics, there must be more than a touch of realism involved.
The really hard work for the new and old lies ahead.