Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Loe: 'Weak' team packs plenty of muscle

Piri Weepu looks to pass the ball. Photo / Getty Images
Piri Weepu looks to pass the ball. Photo / Getty Images

What a fascinating All Black team scenario we have coming up against the Boks at Port Elizabeth next weekend - Piri Weepu possibly getting some game time at first five-eighths and real selection battles at prop, lock, loose forward, the wings and fullback.

Some people might think the All Blacks are "doing a de Villiers" and rotating deliberately but I don't think so. The selectors have to identify those who most warrant a place in the World Cup squad.

With all that competition going on, this will not be a weak-looking, under-gunned team like the one Bok coach Peter de Villiers brought down here - this will be a team where people are playing for their World Cup lives.

In the front row, it's a straight competition between John Afoa and Ben Franks. I think Afoa will probably start, along with Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock, and Afoa really has to outshine Franks.

First, he is heading off overseas after the World Cup and Graham Henry has made it clear that could be a disadvantage.

Secondly, I believe Franks can genuinely play both sides of the scrum at top level.

Afoa, however, in spite of all that noise about him being a hooker, is adequate at tighthead at international level but, I believe, only ITM Cup-quality at loosehead.

At lock, I'd think they will play Jarrad Hoeata to see how he does against the physical Boks, with maybe Ali Williams partnering him and Sam Whitelock coming on later.

If Anthony Boric doesn't make it back, this will be Hoeata's chance to show he can be his replacement at World Cup level.

The loose forwards are fascinating, too. I think they may leave Jerome Kaino on the bench and say to Adam Thomson, Liam Messam and Victor Victor that they are playing for only two spots. Kaino can come on if his physical presence is needed. For Thomson, it's a final chance to show he can do the business from No 7 against a physical side - but I'd say he is in the squad already and this is really a showdown between Messam and Vito.

At halfback, they will probably start with Jimmy Cowan and bring Andy Ellis on, though it will be interesting to see if Weepu gets a game - as he is the only other player in this squad who can play 10.

Henry has already said Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui will be in the centres against the Boks - and I think Kahui is also already in the squad. He was a cut above when I saw him playing in the ITM Cup the other day.

But it's at wing and fullback it gets really hard. If Israel Dagg comes well through yesterday's Hawkes Bay-Bay of Plenty clash, he'll get a start, I reckon, and so will Isaia Toeava now in what will be pretty much his last chance to impress.

Zac Guildford will probably also get a go at some stage and they'll want Hosea Gear to have another game to build his form, as he can be a real asset when he is in form and a man who takes some stopping for defences.

That means Cory Jane will probably be on the bench, as he covers wing and fullback, and I think he's done enough to be in the squad anyway.

Form could prove me wrong but, for my money, the World Cup wingers and fullbacks are likely to be Mils Muliaina, Jane, Gear, Dagg and Sitiveni Sivivatu - meaning Guildford (who maybe doesn't offer as much as others) and Toeava (not yet in form) could miss the World Cup.

Dagg has shown enough on other All Black occasions to demonstrate he is exceptional at fullback or wing and, like Jane, can cover both - leaving them room to pick game-breakers such as Gear and Sivivatu.

As I said, fascinating and ultimately sad for someone. They all deserve to be there.

- Herald on Sunday

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Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Wyllie Loe was a renowned All Black forward prop who plied his trade for the New Zealand national team between 1987 and 1995. Loe was well known by fans and team mates alike as an ‘enforcer’ on the pitch, a player who balanced his abilities with the ball with a tough-tackling prowess and a penchant for physicality. During an outstanding career Richard Loe represented his country of birth in no less than three World Cups, assisting the All Blacks to a famous victory in 1987. Along with fellow team mate and captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Loe formed one of the most formidable forward lines ever to lead the All Blacks. Despite his sometimes overly physical dominance on the pitch, Loe is regarded by former team mates as being an exceptional character and professional. Following retirement from rugby Loe became a sport columnist for the New Zealand Herald, a position he still holds today.

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