Thursday, 16 September 2010

I know we’ve been down this track before, only for it to end in tears, but one year out from the Rugby World Cup, you’d have to be happy with how Graham Henry’s All Blacks are travelling.

We have a settled top fifteen, the undoubted two best players in the world in Richie McCaw and Dan Carter and some wonderful talent waiting in the wings, such as Sonny Bill Williams and Robbie Fruean.

What Sydney’s close-call did expose, however, was the All Blacks’ Achilles heel. Without one of our marquee players we become beatable, losing both of them doesn’t bear thinking about. Carter was sorely missed. If McCaw wasn’t playing we would have lost. Injury to either in 2011 must be Henry’s worst nightmare.

* Wednesday’s news that McCaw, Kieran Read, Brad Thorn and Owen Franks will not be available for the Canterbury Shield challenge on October 9 is great news for Southland rugby. Defending the Log of Wood against a Canterbury pack containing half of the All Blacks starting eight, would have been a huge mountain to climb. The ‘challenge’ now for a very good Stags pack is to starve the likes of Colin Slade, SBW and Fruean of any meaningful possession.

Likewise the news is equally good for Thursday night’s Auckland challenge. No Keven Mealamu, Jerome Kaino or Joe Rokocoko, albeit the Stags lose the irreplaceable and irrepressible Kenny Lynn to groin surgery.

* While I’m rapt to see the national treasure McCaw wrapped in cotton wool, I do question the amount of time-off some of our All Blacks are being asked to take. Take Jimmy Cowan. He hardly raised a sweat in Sydney and will not be back in action until October 16. Effectively he won’t have had any rugby for eight weeks. My observation of Cowan over the years is he’s the type who wants and needs regular game time.

* One man’s misfortune is often another’s good fortune. Aaron Cruden’s unfortunate Sydney stage fright has done Boy Wonder Robbie Robinson’s chances of a call-up for the All Blacks end of year tour no harm at all.

Quite rightfully, exciting new Highlander’s signing Slade will assume the mantle of Carter’s back up. Where Robinson could possibly come into the picture is as a utility who could cover first five-eighth and full back, especially considering a recuperating Carter could well go on tour without being fully recovered from his ankle surgery.

Unlike the admirably brave Cruden, Robinson has a kicking game. On Sydney’s display Cruden would struggle to kick a hen off its nest whereas Robinson’s kicking, especially for goal, is coming along a treat. And that is where he could steal a march on his equally talented mate.


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