Zac Guildford gets All Blacks squad call-up
Crusaders winger Zac Guildford has been handed an All Black reprieve, but whether there's one coming for Hosea Gear too remains up in the air as new coach Steve Hansen ponders his wing options.
With Richard Kahui (shoulder) and Cory Jane (high ankle sprain) both out of the three-test Irish series next month, Hansen today called up Guildford to join his 35-man training camp in Auckland.
He confirmed today, as players drifted in from around the country for three days of preparation and development, that one more wing would also be added to this extended group.
But he stopped short of confirming that would be highly credentialed Highlanders flyer Hosea Gear who was considered unlucky to miss on the initial squad. Gear, understood to be on the verge of bolting to Japan, has played eight tests and been one of the more consistent New Zealand performers out wide.
At the moment Guildford and Wellington youngster Julian Savea are the only specialist wings in the squad, but Hansen said a selection meeting tomorrow would decide on what they needed next.
"We might look at someone who can double up as a utility, and just give us a bit more strength in that area.
"Richard could clearly play three positions – fullback, wing and centre. We thought initially we'd just bring in a specialist, but now we've lost both of them we might go for someone else who can give us a bit more cover."
Hansen made no attempt to disguise the fact that Hurricanes fullback Andre Taylor was the other player pressing fairly compelling claims.
"He's probably in contention, isn't he. He's playing well and doing a lot of things right. He's obviously a person you'd look at but others are out there too, Hosea is still very much in our minds as well. Monday will be a good debate."
The new All Blacks coach has one other serious injury worry as the June tests loom closer.
Blues hooker Keven Mealamu has reinjured a calf muscle that's given him problems for much of this season, and Hansen said medical evaluation today would determine whether another hooker had to be added to a squad decidedly bare in that position.
Corey Flynn of the Crusaders and Hika Elliot of the Chiefs are the other hookers with national team experience, though Hansen also mentioned the name of Hurricanes youngster Dane Coles.
He said a third hooker had not been deemed necessary in the initial squad selection but if Mealamu's evaluation did not go well, one would be added.
Hansen said this camp, and next week's in Wellington, was about getting some "clarity" among the players around expectations and the style of rugby to be played, and also for the coaches to have a closer look at contenders to face Ireland.
There was also a clear development aspect, with a handful of youngsters selected purely to gain exposure to the All Black environment.
"There's a couple of people here who are clearly going to be All Blacks in the future if they continue to develop the way we believe they will," said Hansen.
"It's just a nice opportunity to bring them into the camp. We don't have tours where we can grow these guys so we just felt the wider training group option was one we should take advantage of."
Hansen also reaffirmed his view that the national team environment would help one or two out-of-form Blues players regain something resembling their A games.
"The biggest job we've got is to get them confident again," he said. "If we get them confident we'll get them believing in themselves. You don't go from being a world-class player to a mug just because you've lost your confidence."
The All Blacks will remain in camp on Auckland's North Shore through until Tuesday when they will rejoin their Super Rugby squads for the rest of the week.