Hosea needs to get in gear against Springboks
LIAM NAPIER IN JOHANNESBURG
Hosea Gear reaches a critical juncture on Sunday.
Julian Savea has the upper hand and is threatening to take his place in the All Blacks.
Gear needs to deliver a reminder of why Graham Henry once called him the world's best winger.
At 28, Gear is nearing the crossroads. Six tries in 11 tests over three years is a modest return. That record doesn't reflect his game-breaking qualities.
With Savea making his impact felt on the left wing, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen laid down a clear challenge to Gear, asking him to "step in and step up" against the Springboks.
To his credit, Gear admits he hasn't produced his best this year but seems relaxed about hitting peak form in Soweto.
"He's probably right. I want to put in a really good performance," Gear said.
In the 60-0 cakewalk over Ireland in Hamilton, Gear produced one stunning try which displayed his pace and power. That aberration hasn't been repeated in an otherwise subdued season for the All Blacks.
Gear struggled to get involved with limited opportunities flowing his way in two tests against Australia and hopes to rectify that in Johannesburg where hard, fast running rugby is expected to prosper and suit his intentions.
"I probably didn't do anything bad, but I didn't do anything really good as well so that's a challenge for me and one I'm excited about. It's always tough to be on the sideline," he said.
Savea and Cory Jane combined for five tires in the exemplary thumping of the Pumas last week. Gear is aware the bar has been raised significantly by the other in-form wingers.
He realises the need to make a statement against the Boks or risk slipping further down the pecking order.
"We've got a pretty good competition going between us," Gear said of former Hurricanes team-mate Savea. "It's always good to challenge each other.
"Those boys have really set the standard for us as outside backs. It's a good platform to come in to and try and carry on that momentum."
Those two tussles with the Wallabies were Gear's only game-time since Super Rugby. Altitude is sure to test his lung capacity and fitness, but Gear feels it is the top two inches he needs to get right.
"It's tough, I've played about two games in three months so it's probably more mental," he said. "I haven't had a lot of time to go through the moves."
Any outside back's first priority is to expertly finish, but on defence Gear will have to be on guard after Boks speedster Bryan Habana returned to form with a hat-trick last week.
"He's one of the quickest guys in world rugby and he's been No.1 wing for a long time so it's a good chance to measure myself up against him."
Lock Brodie Retallick, the only other change to the starting team, was hopeful he wouldn't end up with three facial cuts like Luke Romano.
"He was certainly pretty battered after last week," Retallick said.
"It's nice to get a start. I've never played in-front of a crowd that big [90,000] so I'm definitely looking forward to the challenge."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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