Admittedly Graham Henry can, unlike this time 12 months ago, call on the services of his two marquee players, but after Richie McCaw and Dan Carter the cupboard has a slight Mother Hubbard look to it.
Keven Mealamu, Brad Thorn, Jerome Kaino, Kieran Reid, Jimmy Cowan, Conrad Smith and Cory Jane are now proven performers. I really like the cut of youngsters Owen Franks and Israel Dagg. But the jury is surely still out on Ben Franks, Anthony Boric, Benson Stanley and Joe Rokocoko.
Piri Weepu and Neemia Tialata (who I’ve never rated) aside, there’s blessed little experience on the bench. While I don’t expect the injury-plagued Irish to taste victory for the first time in over a century, this is an All Blacks side that would not beat the Boks and could well struggle against Robbie Deans’ up and coming Aussies.
* Otago rugby has gone back to the future by naming Des Smith manager. Smith managed Otago during a golden period and his appointment is yet another example of what a cunning choice Aussie Phil Mooney might end up being.
Initially Mooney was greeted with howls of derision but the former Queensland coach has not put a foot wrong thus far. He was smart enough to realize he needed the iconic David Latta on deck and with a board headed by Wayne Graham and Laurie Mains, he has some real rugby grunt behind him.
I’d suggest Southland’s defense of the Ranfurly Shield has just got a little more difficult. Not only do we have to face the might of Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington later in the season, we’ve also got to get past Counties Manukau with the possible prospect of Sonny Bill Williams and Tana Umaga in the midfield.
Throw in a rejuvenated Otago and August 7 at Rugby Park promises to be day not to be missed!
* I’ve just returned from a week’s golfing holiday in the Fijian sun. The weather was stunning, the beer expensive and my holiday reading could not be more contrasting.
If you haven’t already, you must read Andre Agassi’s best-selling Open. Agassi’s life story is a cracking read, from his tough upbringing in Las Vegas, to his love affairs with Brooke Shields and Steffi Graf, to his absolute disdain for the likes of Jimmy Connors and Boris Becker. He’s a gifted, complex, caring, yet surprisingly needy and insecure character.
By comparison Chris Laidlaw’s take on modern rugby, Somebody Stole My Game, was so dry it threatened to combust upon opening. I’m surprised they let me on the plane with it.
Laidlaw is a very interesting and intelligent man. His early 1970s critique of rugby Mud In Your Eye is an absolute essential in any sporting library. I’m afraid his latest offering will go straight to the pool room.