Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Spotlight on test team deemed the best


Expectation, then judgment, will be strong spectator elements around tonight's opening All Black test.

Selection of the expanded training squads and their intrusive but necessary impact on the Super 15 has filled much of the rugby chatter before this test series with France.

The explanation was that it was all for the good of New Zealand rugby, therefore we can now put that impact under the microscope at Eden Park.

Kieran Read will lead the All Blacks as the fifth player in the past decade to have that honour at the start of a season. Trivial pursuitists will identify the others as Reuben Thorne, Tana Umaga, Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina.

We can judge how a variety of players respond to their All Black selection after being irregular blips in Super 15.

Injury, team standards, game plans - they are all wheeled out as reasons for players' erratic contributions.

Tonight those players are under a bigger spotlight. The selectors have decided they are the best group for test rugby and given them the best tuition.

They may not have played together this season but enough are with Super 15 teammates or regular test comrades.

And while there are the usual noises about the dangers from France and the potential within their squad, the tourists are facing more obstacles.

They had a torrid Six Nations, have travelled from the other side of the world, face unfamiliar conditions, are at the tail end of an arduous season and are down on manpower.

Their task is to face the side rated the best in the world.

That is a tough itinerary, unlike the lack of bite the Lions have so far encountered on their tour.

Observers like former Lion Austin Healy have bemoaned the weak opposition and, comically, warned about the dangers of stories concocted in the Australian media.

Mind you, this is from a bloke who rates playing for England and then in a World Cup final as great pinnacles in the game.

Each to their own standards.

- 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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