So what exactly do Robbie Fruean and Andre Taylor need to do to get a shot with the All Blacks?
They have been tearing up opposition defences at will in this year's Super 15, yet have been overlooked to represent their country in June. Robbie Fruean may be wandering if he will ever get selected, such has been the apparent lack of confidence shown in him by All Black selectors in the last few years.
Some onlookers meanwhile had even claimed that the other absentee mentioned, Andre Taylor, had evoked memories of legendary All Black Christian Cullen with his daring attacking instincts. Despite these comparisons, his form was apparantly not enough to pass Steve Hansen's litmus test. Neither merited selection in the eyes of the selectors.
Assessing the Squad
'Shag' (pictured) has every right to pick the players he believes will do the job for him (and he will live or die by those decisions). One has to wonder though what criteria were taken into consideration by the selectors, when one casts a more critical eye on the squad they have assembled.
I mentioned in a past post that All Black supporters had got used to seeing the odd bolter named in the squad under Graham Henry's reign. Hansen has taken the idea of a bolter to a whole new level though. In fact, he increased the size of the squad from 30 to 35 to include them. This still left no room for some star performers in Super Rugby.
Does Super Rugby form translate to International Success?
It is well known that Super Rugby form doesn't necesarily translate into international stardom. One only need to look at Isiaia Toeava's stuttering form for the All Blacks in recent years as proof of that. He has arguably been the key man for the Blues over the last 3 years. Known to his team-mates as 'Ice', Toeava (pictured inset) has been 'the man' for his franchise, with the ability to seemingly do anything on the field for them, yet for the All Blacks, he has been merely an afterthought. A series of fumbles in big games led to the impression that Toeava couldn't handle the step up. The pressure was too much. Perhaps Hansen and co fear a similar problem with messrs Taylor and Fruean. If that is the case, the so be it.
However, if one doesn't have Super Rugby form, one normally needs to have some brownie points in the bag already, either at domestic level or on the international stage. This is the reason All Black stalwarts Piri Weepu, Ali Williams and Ma'a Nonu have been picked despite little to no form for their respective franchises in Super Rugby in 2012.
How on earth have the likes of Luke Romano, Luke Whitelock and Brad Shields made the squad then?
As rookies, their presence in this year's Super 15 has been sporadic at best and obviously they have not played a full international yet (although they have starred at junior levels). No one is doubting their talent. Brad Shields has been mentioned as a potential replacement for Jerome Kaino at 6, and when he has played has had a positive impact for the Hurricanes. While Luke Romano's energy and abrasiveness could clearly benefit New Zealand on the International stage in the future, given the departure of the wily old Brad Thorn. He still sits behind Tom Donnelly in the Crusaders pecking order though. It does seem like a kick in the teeth for some of the top performers in New Zealand, who were not selected.
Kick in the Teeth for Form Players?
For example, how must Highlanders duo Nasi Manu (pictured left) or Nick Crosswell be feeling? Both have played with huge passion and energy for their franchise and yet have been overlooked in favour of Brad Shields/ Luke Whitelock/ Luke Romano. I'm not saying they are necessarily the future of the All Blacks, but they must be wondering whether they have to run through brick walls to get noticed by the selectors.
Also what about Dane Coles and Hika Elliott at hooker? The selectors prefered to select untested Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna in the 3rd hooker beth, as he apparantly can play hooker at a push. Strange?? I certainly think so. Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore may be quality hookers, but they are ageing and it definitely confuses me a little that there doesn't seem to be any real succession plan in that position. I cannot see Tameifuna being a long-term option.
I understand that Hansen sees talent in NZ and wants to nurture it from a young age. In truth, his selections both annoy and excite me in equal measure. I wanted to see the likes of Retallick, Barrett etc in the squad. He may have gone a little to far though by selecting the likes of Romano and Whitelock.
Setting a Dangerous Precedent
Hansen is playing a dangerous game with his selections. Those players who are on the fringes of selection and have performed well will be disheartened by his approach and possibly dissilusioned. If they believe Hansen is setting a precedent with his selection process too, it could lead them to search for a contract off shore. Why hold out for a cap when you believe the coach has pre-determined his selections after all? This obviously could drastically reduce NZ's depth.
Furthermore, by picking the youngsters without any real top level experiences to back them up, it may be a case of trying to make them run before they can walk. That could potentially cause long-term damage; not physically but mentally. A bad mistake in a high-profile game could instill an unwarranted sense of fear in their game.
It is clear that one can introduce talented players at a young-age. James O'Connor represented Australia before he played a representative game for the Force. I don't think you can put Luke Romano and Ben Tameifuna quite in the same class as the young Wallaby though.
What do you make of the selections? I would be very interested to hear your thoughts.
Blues: Charlie Faumuina, Ma'a Nonu, Keven Mealamu, Piri Weepu, Ali Williams and Tony Woodcock.
Chiefs: Sam Cane, Aaron Cruden, Richard Kahui, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Brodie Retallick, Ben Tameifuna and Sonny Bill Williams.
Hurricanes: Beauden Barrett, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Brad Shields, Conrad Smith and Victor Vito.
Crusaders: Daniel Carter, Wyatt Crockett, Israel Dagg, Andy Ellis, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Luke Whitelock and Samuel Whitelock.
Highlanders: Tamati Ellison, Andrew Hore, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Adam Thomson.