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July 12, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Tri Nations

The Reverse Sweep

The 2010 Investec Tri Nations got underway on Saturday, and the All Blacks’ prospects remain in the balance. The New Zealanders started the tournament in the unfamiliar position of underdogs, with South Africa’s dominant performances in the Super 14 making the Springboks the undeniable favourites. Despite only starting as slight favourites at the TAB ($2.10, as compared to the All Blacks at $2.25 and Wallabies at $5.50), the Boks must also have a morale advantage over the ABs.

The All Blacks’ build-up to the Tri Nations has been reasonably promising, with comfortable wins over both the Irish and Welsh (twice). However, their performances were somewhat overshadowed by an outstanding New Zealand Maori side. The Maori celebrated their centenary in style with hard-fought wins over the New Zealand Barbarians, Ireland and England. In the process, some stellar individual performances gave the All Black selectors some food for thought.

Controversial selections are seemingly inherent in (New Zealand) sport, and the Tri Nations squad is no different. Four players have been dropped from the squad used during the Steinlager Series—winger Zach Guildford, prop Neemia Tialata, loose forward Adam Thompson and hooker Aled de Malmanche. Replacing them are Ma’a Nonu, John Afoa, Liam Messam and Corey Flynn, with varying degrees of credibility.

The most glaring omission from the squad is in-form Canes winger Hosea Gear; on the
back of a solid finish to the Super 14 and a scintillating centenary series, which included a match-winning hat trick against England. Gear would have been one of my first picks for the Tri Nations, but Henry and co have instead opted for the likes of has-been Joe Rokocoko and the inexperienced Rene Ranger. Zach Guildford was also somewhat unlucky, having done little wrong in the Steinlager Series. Perhaps his mediocre Super 14 form was the underlying reason for his demise… *cough* shouldn’t have left the Canes *cough*.

The reasoning behind some of the controversial selections is equally dissatisfying—in particular Henry’s logic behind the preference of Rokocoko over Gear. The only possible reasoning behind Rokocoko’s selection that I can see is his superb try-scoring record. However, although he has amassed 45 tries in 62 tests (third most prolific in All Black history), his career has surely passed its climax. Gear offers the same attributes once almost exclusive to Rokocoko—strength, pace and a nose for the try-line—in more frequently destructive doses.

Henry is adamant that harmony at the back is key to victory, and asserts that Rokocoko
has the ability to work with the other two. In that case I fail to see how a Wellington back three (Guildford included) would not be a creditable option. The selectors’ decisions are questionable foremost because of the lack of evidence behind them. Another example is the dropping of Aled de Malmanche, who was only afforded a few minutes’ game time against Wales and Ireland.

Whether or not the selectors have chosen the right squad to compete against the
Springboks, the Tri Nations will be an important step on the road to RWC 2011. Let’s just hope Henry doesn’t “Ted up” our future prospects.

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