Hansen needs to recog­nise young AB tal­ent

SPORTS TALK WITH JOSEPH ROMANOS

Auckland City Harbour News - - SPORT -

New Zealand cer­tainly has the tal­ent to win the 2015 Rugby World Cup, but will coach Steve Hansen se­lect boldly enough?

The All Blacks have un­doubted bril­liance. Younger play­ers like Ben Smith, Ju­lian Savea, Charles Pi­u­tau, Aaron Smith, Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fek­i­toa, Sam Cane, Beau­den Bar­rett, Sam White­lock and Brodie Re­tal­lick ooze flair, fresh­ness and pace.

How­ever, many of the cur­rent squad are aged 30-plus. The worry is Hansen will pick them out of habit.

Richie McCaw, the cap­tain, turns 35 just af­ter the World Cup, and is not the force he was.

Keven Mealamu, 36, Con­rad Smith, who turns 34 dur­ing the tour­na­ment, Daniel Carter, 33, Ma’a Nonu, 33, Tony Wood­cock, 34, Liam Mes­sam, 31, Jerome Kaino, 32, Ben Franks, 31, Wy­att Crock­ett, 32 and Cory Jane, 32, are hang­ing on.

Things hap­pen fast in top rugby th­ese days.

Look at Is­rael Dagg, who burst through be­fore the 2011 World Cup, forced his way into the start­ing lineup and was su­perb.

Now, just 26, he’s past his best.

A coach shouldn’t dis­card play­ers just be­cause of their age, but has to be dis­pas­sion­ate in his de­ci­sion mak­ing.

A look through his­tory might per­suade Hansen to be dar­ing.

New Zealand went to South Africa in 1970 hop­ing to win a test se­ries there for the first time.

But a great All Black era was wind­ing down. Leg­endary for­wards Colin Meads and Brian Lo­chore were well into their 30s, and ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers Earl Kir­ton, Ian MacRae, Bruce McLeod, Jazz Muller, Wayne Cot­trell and Mal­colm Dick were over the hill.

New Zealand se­ries 3-1.

There was poor ref­er­ee­ing, but the All Blacks lacked vi­tal­ity and youth­ful vigour, Bryan Wil­liams apart.

At the 1987 World Cup, New Zealand fielded a fresh young team.

Emerg­ing stars Michael Jones, John Gal­lagher and Sean Fitz­patrick were a rev­e­la­tion.

Equally, vet­er­ans Andy Haden, Mur­ray Mexted, Mark Shaw, Hika Reid, Wayne Smith and David Loveridge re­tired af­ter the 1986 rebel Cava­liers tour of South Africa, forc­ing the se­lec­tors’ hand.

By 1991 the All Blacks were on an­other down­ward

lost

the spi­ral. Se­nior All Blacks Terry Wright, Steve McDowall, Gary and Alan Whet­ton were near­ing the end of their ca­reers, and the team did not fire, los­ing in the semis. Coach John Hart paid the price for lack of vi­sion in the late 1990s.

Michael Jones, Zin­zan Brooke, Fitz­patrick, Frank Bunce, Olo Brown and Wal­ter Lit­tle played on so long their re­place­ments in the 1999 World Cup team did not have time to re­ally as­sert them­selves in­ter­na­tion­ally. An­other failed cam­paign. Eng­land fielded an age­ing team and won in 2003.

At least eight play­ers – Kyran Bracken, Mike Catt, Neil Back, Do­rian West, Ja­son Leonard, Martin John­son, the cap­tain, Lawrence Dallaglio and Matt Daw­son – were well on the wrong side of 30.

My feel­ing is in­ter­na­tional rugby has moved on since then. New Zealand meet Ar­gentina, Namibia, Ge­or­gia and Tonga in their World Cup pre­lim­i­nar­ies this year – hardly a rig­or­ous test.

The age­ing war­riors could play those games and look okay.

But will they be up to it in the cru­cial play-off matches?

There’s so much tal­ent in the All Black squad it would be a pity if the dy­namic new stars were kept out of the im­por­tant ac­tion be­cause of a coach’s ad­her­ence to a peck­ing or­der.

Photo: REUTERS

Con­rad Smith, left, and Richie McCaw are two of the age­ing All Blacks ahead of this year’s World Cup.

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