Kronfeld critical of the new No 7s

Outstanding former All Black openside flanker Josh Kronfeld says the No 7 jersey he treasured is being given out to players who have yet to prove themselves.

All Blacks coach John Mitchell shocked long-serving ball scavenger Kronfeld by selecting Canterbury's Richard McCaw for the tour of Ireland, Scotland and Argentina.

McCaw has played just one NPC season.

"I haven't seen him play, but it seems incredible to me that they so easily can put No 7s in," said the Leicester-based player.

"Before him it was Marty Holah off one Super 12 season; now they've got a guy off one NPC season.

"You might as well just give All Black jerseys to everybody. The fact they picked guys off one NPC season is bloody incredible.

"I understand [McCaw] has been playing well, but anyone can play well in a team that's going well, and Canterbury have been kicking ass by all accounts."

Kronfeld, who played 54 tests and two World Cups between 1994 and 2000, was not surprised Mitchell had made so many changes, saying the loose-forward combinations had not been working.

He reserved judgment on the wisdom of the selections.

Ireland coach Warren Gatland, a former Waikato team-mate of Mitchell, was quick to pinpoint the relative inexperience of the New Zealand loose forwards.

Either Holah or McCaw seem sure to start against Ireland on November 17, then against Scotland a week later.

While Scotland have lost their entire backrow to injury, Ireland have a test-hardened group of loosies to choose from.

Last month, they dumped Six Nations champions England at home.

Gatland had been using Tri-Nations tapes to prepare for the game, but was no longer sure how relevant those games were, since the introduction of 11 new players.

"When there's a change of coach and of personnel you've just got to be careful how much you look into what they've done in the past," he said.

"I'm a little surprised that North Harbour and Auckland were in the NPC semifinal, yet there's only one Aucklander in it, and they've picked guys off the bench in Canterbury, rather than guys that have been playing all year."

Kronfeld, who gave up any chance he had of playing for the All Blacks when he moved to England, hoped rules preventing overseas-based players representing New Zealand would be overturned.

He pointed out that Australia had selected France-based winger Joe Roff for their tour of Europe and Britain.

Kronfeld said he still wanted to play for the All Blacks.

"Given the opportunity that would be great."

Scotland coach Ian McGeechan said the new-look All Blacks would not be regarded as a "second-string" squad.

McGeechan denied that Mitchell's team, missing several established stars, would be less of a drawcard in Britain.

"I don't think it will dampen interest at all," he said. "That is a lot of changes and I guess we won't know much about them, but we watch a lot of Super 12 rugby over here, which has a big following.

"There's a lot of expectation about the team and Murrayfield is nearly sold out."

All Black great Ian Kirkpatrick welcomed Mitchell's clean-out, saying several "stale players" had outlived their shelf-life.

Kirkpatrick said some All Blacks, such as Jeff Wilson, appeared to have lost some of their lustre and it was time they went.

"They play so much now they get a bit stale on it," he said.

"I guess Mitchell had a bit of a point to prove, but he must have confidence his players are going to do it for him."

Kirkpatrick also put Carlos Spencer and Taine Randell in the "stale" category.

Kirkpatrick, who survived one of the All Blacks' most dramatic clean-outs in 1974, had no doubt the new team could re-group from the shake-up.

Kirkpatrick lost his captaincy when 15 new All Blacks were introduced to the 25-man 1974 touring team to Australia.

- NZPA

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