Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph believes All Black hooker Andrew Hore is at a crossroads after being unwanted by the southern franchise, a move which has also contributed to Tony Woodcock leaving halfway through a two-year deal.
The Highlanders decided not to re-sign Hore with youngsters Liam Coltman and Brayden Mitchell already confirmed to multi-year deals, while Woodcock will return to the family farm north of Auckland and presumably rejoin the Blues.
While Hore remains in the All Black environment, fellow veteran Keven Mealamu was selected to back up Dane Coles against the Springboks last weekend.
"I think Horey is at the crossroads of what he'd like to do and what's available," Joseph said.
"Last week the All Black coaches said they can't afford to take two [older] guys through the World Cup and their selection indicated what way they are steering."
Joseph said it looked like Hore was in no hurry to retire, though he couldn't say whether he would be heading overseas.
"I guess the fact he finds himself still in the All Blacks and still playing some good footy, it looks like he'd like to continue, but as far as the Highlanders are concerned, it's time to bring these young boys through," he said.
"He's a man of the land and really enjoys the area around here. He's obviously from Ranfurly and recently had a little baby. It's hard to get a gauge."
Woodcock had expressed a desire to return home to help on the family farm.
"Woody's father is crook. He obviously came down here because he's good mates with Horey and he's looking to go back north. They are both farmers and Woody said [his father] has a crook back and struggles a bit on the farm, and with Woody down here it's compounded that a little bit." The Highlanders succession planning had meant for some difficult calls, including letting Jason Rutledge go last year, Joseph said.
"Scratcher [Mitchell] and Liam Coltman have been contracted since 2011. It was hard letting Cabbage [Rutledge] go, when we had two older hookers and two younger hookers our plan was around a natural handover."
The Highlanders' pack will still have the experience of Chris King, Brad Thorn, Nasi Manu, John Hardie and Josh Bekhuis next season, Joseph said.
"For me, I get comfort that we still have plenty of experience ... we've got enough experience and we just need to make sure that we've got a bit of hunger and some youth coming through."
The Highlanders, who will confirm their squad in November, will be without a host of high-profile players, including Ma'a Nonu, Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Jamie Mackintosh and Kade Poki next season.
Meanwhile, 3000 tickets remain available for the All Blacks' final home test of the year against Australia in Dunedin on October 19.
It will be the first time in 12 years the Wallabies have played in Dunedin. Forsyth Barr Stadium will have a capacity of 27,000 for the game.
- The Southland Times