THE NEXT CABS OFF THE RANK
Wyatt Crockett’s retirement raises issues about the All Blacks’ loosehead prop depth with regular test starter Joe Moody still rehabilitating from shoulder surgery.
It’s not often a 35-year-old prop is replaced by an even older option, but that was the case when Chris King, 36, took over from Crockett on the Crusaders’ loosehead against the Chiefs last Saturday.
King is back swinging a hammer in Canterbury after a long career with the Highlanders and a short stint overseas.
Does his unexpected return to Super Rugby point to a dearth of depth? Not necessarily - there’s just a temporary injury blip.
Moody will be back in harness for the Crusaders by the end of April and should be ready for the June test series against France.
He already has 31 tests and is approaching his prime. Strong and mobile, the former New Zealand wrestler is, arguably, the best loosehead in the world.
Kane Hames, who now has nine caps since his 2016 debut, is Moody’s obvious backup.
Illness kept him out of the Chiefs’ clash with the Crusaders and he isn’t expected to return this weekend.
But the 29-year-old grew in stature last year when Steve Hansen entrusted him with the starter’s role in Moody’s injury-enforced absence, electing to leave Crockett in the impact role off the bench.
Who are the other contenders? Hurricanes starter Toby Smith doesn’t qualify. The Australian-born Hamilton-raised 29-year-old has played six tests for the Wallabies.
TIM PERRY (Crusaders)
The Tasman stalwart has had a battle to get game-time at the Crusaders with Moody and Crockett ahead of him in the queue.
But the 29-year-old son of 1980 All Black hooker Grant Perry was called up for last November’s European tour and played in the mid-week fixtures against the Barbarians and a French XV. The former shepherd has shown great resilience to overcome two serious leg injuries, but a knock kept him out of the 2018 first round game against the Chiefs.
DANIEL LIENERT-BROWN (Highlanders)
His younger brother, Anton, is already an All Black, so what chance of the Highlanders prop making it a family double?
He was a New Zealand under-20 rep in 2013 and is approaching 50 Super Rugby games. Very mobile in open play, but would need to improve as a scrummager to press his case to Hansen and scrum guru Mike Cron.
PAULIASA MANU (Blues)
Already has a World Cup winner’s medal without playing a minute for the All Blacks after he was called up as injury cover when Crockett’s groin gave out at the 2015 tournament.
The 30-year-old’s been around the Super Rugby scene since 2011. The Blues have grabbed the Counties Manukau cornerstone from the Chiefs and he should be a valuable addition to Tana Umaga’s front-row ranks.
ALEX HODGMAN (Blues)
Another who languished in Crockett and Moody’s considerable shadows at the Crusaders.
Tall and adept at the breakdown, he needs a big season in his second term with the Blues.
MITCHELL GRAHAM (Chiefs)
Missed last season after breaking his leg at the Brisbane Tens. He’s going to miss the opening rounds of 2018 after an operation to remove screws from his leg. But Graham has impressed before for the Chiefs and Taranaki and is a big ball-carrier.