Wynne Gray on sport

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Weepu follows the scent of a Cup starting spot

By Wynne Gray

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Piri Weepu will start his 40th test tomorrow against the Springboks in Wellington. Photo / Getty Images
Piri Weepu will start his 40th test tomorrow against the Springboks in Wellington. Photo / Getty Images

There have been a number of dark days for Piri Weepu, but the All Black halfback can see a glimmer of gold next season.

He will start his 40th test tomorrow against the Springboks in Wellington, in a career which has probably had more blips than highs.

His selection this season has given him the spur to push on for a World Cup place next year, a reward which eluded him in 2007.

When that dream disappeared, Weepu thought he would not get another chance to play at the big tournament. That pessimistic view would not have been helped by a selection chart which shows his last test start was against Scotland, at Murrayfield in 2008. Since then he has watched Jimmy Cowan, Brendon Leonard and Andy Ellis start in the No 9 test jersey.

The 2011 World Cup seemed a mirage until his recent All Black return. Now he allows his mind to imagine.

"I thought I was not going to hang around much longer, but the way that things have panned out in the latter stages of the Super 14 and being reselected, I've been thinking about the World Cup and being part of the squad," he admitted. "I thought I would only have one crack at it and I did not know how things would pan out after that.

"I want to focus and enjoy footy and after that, see what happens. I'm just trying to be in a positive headspace going into next year."

It is over to Weepu.

He agrees there is choice galore for the selectors with Alby Mathewson, Kahn Fotuali'i and Brendon Leonard all pushing and Tyson Keats ready to fill in again at the Hurricanes if he stumbles at Super 14 level.

Late in this year's Super 14, Weepu was unsure about his selection. He began to wonder about offshore contracts.

"I guess you just had to wait and see.

"When my name was read out [for the year's first All Black squad], the chances were that I was given another lifeline. So I tried to get myself in the best nick I could and I am still working at that.

"If I had not been named in the squad, I would have started thinking about options though I had no intentions of anywhere in particular."

"Getting the nod to be part of the squad is humbling and a huge honour for myself and I am sure for Jimmy [Cowan] as well."

Weepu was unsure whether tomorrow's test represented a visit to the Last Chance Saloon, though he knew he had to make a statement.

He had worked hard on getting his attitude and body sorted. He was doubly determined to front up in the best condition for next year's Super 15 to force the selectors to choose him again.

He admitted there were times that he let disappointments weigh him down.

"When you feel you are not playing well your attitude drops ... That can get you down a bit, but you have to try and pull yourself out of that and be positive. People that have been helping me, also my family, have been great so I am pretty good right now."

- NZ Herald

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