All Blacks’ war­riors age­ing

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

All Black coach Steve Hansen is in a tricky spot. The Rugby World Cup is only a year away and he’d love to go into that tour­na­ment with a set­tled, ex­pe­ri­enced team.

But for some of his age­ing war­riors, it might be a bridge too far.

Hansen would do well to heed the lessons of past All Black teams.

In 1970, Brian Lo­chore’s team to South Africa was seek­ing to cre­ate his­tory. The All Blacks hadn’t been beaten since 1965 and wanted to be­come the first New Zealand team to win a se­ries in South Africa.

In­stead they lost 3- 1 and it be­came clear sev­eral key play­ers were past their best.

Kel Tre­main had just been dropped and prop Ken Gray elected not to tour. Fergie McCormick, Mal­colm Dick, Earle Kir­ton, Ian McRae, Bill Davis, Bruce McLeod and Lo­chore him­self were on the down slope.

They were out­paced by the Spring­boks.

In 1991 the All Blacks looked past it at the World Cup.

Buck Shelford had been dropped the year be­fore (a coura­geous de­ci­sion by coach Alex Wyl­lie, with en­cour­age­ment from se­lec­tor John Hart), and Terry Wright, Gary and Alan Whet­ton and Steve McDowall – im­por­tant team mem­bers – were over the hill.

The All Blacks dipped out 16-6 to Aus­tralia in the semi-fi­nals that year.

There was a sim­i­lar World Cup ex­pe­ri­ence in 1999.

Leg­endary play­ers Sean Fitz­patrick, Michael Jones, Zin­zan Brooke and Frank Bunce had bowed out the pre­vi­ous year. Hart had prob­a­bly stuck with some of them a year or two too long.

Dur­ing the 1999 World Cup, it be­came ob­vi­ous that oth­ers, in­clud­ing Craig Dowd, Josh Kron­feld, Robin Brooke, Ian Jones and Glen Os­borne were also at or near the end of the road.

What hap­pened was that the new play­ers were too new, and the old play­ers were too old. There was poor plan­ning for that World Cup.

Here’s hop­ing Hansen doesn’t re­peat that mis­take.

It’s al­most sac­ri­le­gious to say it, but Richie McCaw, 33, looks as if he’s reached the end of his run.

I re­call the much-missed Jock Hobbs say­ing in 2008 he doubted McCaw would make it through to the 2011 World Cup, such was the ham­mer­ing the All Black cap­tain took in each test.

McCaw did make it, al­beit with a bro­ken foot, and has gone on to play more than 120 tests. But he shouldn’t be selected just on rep­u­ta­tion. He had min­i­mal im­pact in the first two tests of the cur­rent Eng­land se­ries.

Hooker Keven Mealamu is 35, and well past his best. Why is he even still in the squad?

Sev­eral other big- name All Blacks are on the wrong side of 30, in­clud­ing Ben Franks, Jerome Kaino, Liam Mes­sam, Tony Woodcock, Wy­att Crock­ett, Daniel Carter, Con­rad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Cory Jane.

I’m not say­ing they should all be dropped. In­deed, Nonu looked ter­rific in the sec­ond test against Eng­land.

But nei­ther should they be cho­sen merely out of habit, be­cause they are part of the se­nior man­age­ment group or be­cause they have played well in years past.

There are so many ex­cit­ing play­ers in the mix it would be a shame if the World Cup team was not picked strictly on merit.

Photo: GETTY

Sands of time: Is Richie McCaw’s long All Black ca­reer wind­ing down?

JOSEPH ROMANOS

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