All Blacks cotton wool Canty loosie Cullen Grace
The All Blacks have wrapped Canterbury loose forward Cullen Grace in cotton wool, despite fellow rookie Tupou Vaa’i being released to play for Taranaki.
The Timaru product was a prime candidate to be cut loose, given the 20-year-old has already missed a lot of rugby this year with a broken thumb, and is unlikely to be rushed into Ian Foster’s 23 for the two home Bledisloe Cup tests next month.
However, Canterbury weren’t granted permission to pick him in their team to face Hawke’s Bay in Napier tonight. Vaa’i was named in Taranaki’s XV for tomorrow afternoon’s Ranfurly Shield defence against Otago.
Minus Auckland lock Patrick Tuipulotu, who needs minutes after battling an Achilles ‘‘niggle’’ since the North v South match on September 5, frontline All Blacks aren’t being released.
‘‘To be honest, we planned not to have the All Blacks, although there was an indication they might release some,’’ Canterbury co-coach Mark Brown said. ‘‘Cully has had a couple of big games, and he was a bit banged up after the weekend, he was extremely physical.’’
Brown was referring to Grace’s combative performance in Canterbury’s 23-22 Ranfurly Shield loss to Taranaki last Saturday, before the All Blacks held a three-day camp in Whakata¯ne this week.
Another three-day camp is slated for Hamilton next week, before the All Blacks base themselves in Wellington ahead of the opening Bledisloe Cup test at Sky Stadium on October 11.
But, rather than ask Grace, who missed much of Super Rugby Aotearoa with a broken thumb, to keep working on his craft with Canterbury, the All Blacks are happy for him to sit idle this weekend. What a difference a week makes. With the blanket availability of All Blacks kaput, Canterbury has made 10 changes to their XV as they eye a bounce-back win.
Crusader Whetukamokamo Douglas replaces Grace at No 8, and will captain the side with regular skipper Reed Prinsep on the bench.
Recent Blues signing Sam Darry, a 2m Christchurch raised lock, will make his Mitre 10 Cup debut alongside Mitchell Dunshea.
Tom Sanders, one of the standout players in the North v South match earlier this month, also features for the first time this year, as does Highlander Ngane Punivai, who replaces brother Isaiah and will start at centre. With Richie Mo’unga now on All Blacks duty, another face unseen at the top level since March is back in the frame.
That’s first five-eighth Fergus Burke, who made his Crusaders debut in their final Super Rugby match – against the Sunwolves in Brisbane – before Covid-19 scrapped the competition.
Gisborne-born Burke didn’t feature in Super Rugby Aotearoa, instead turning out for Canterbury University, before damaging his shoulder at the back end of July.
He got through 20 minutes of preseason action against Tasman earlier this month, but has had to wait an age to get back on the big stage. ‘‘The Sunwolves was a great opportunity for me, it was probably the most enjoyable game of my life, to be fair, a debut for the Crusaders,’’ Burke said.
‘‘Since then, I’ve had the best first five in the world in front of me in Richie Mo’unga, who is playing unbelievable, so he’s been playing a lot of minutes.’’
Burke will play behind fellow Crusader Brett Cameron tonight, and knows when the chance to finally get on the paddock arrives he needs to take his opportunity.
That’s when the former New Zealand under-20s representative will show what he’s been learning from Mo’unga.
‘‘He’s just a big one about I’m Fergus Burke, he is Richie Mo’unga. Don’t try and be him. He didn’t try and be DC [Dan Carter],’’ Burke said.
‘‘He brings his own style to the game, he just keeps getting at me, ‘be yourself, you’re a different 10 than I am’. That’s a big one for me.’’
Cullen Grace has been rested and will not play against Hawkes Bay.