Last-chance saloon for halfback Piri Weepu
Piri Weepu is on notice.
Time is running out to deliver. He must repay the faith, before it runs out.
Patience is wearing thin with All Blacks hierarchy.
Normally the avenue for blooding young talent, the four-match, end-of-year tour to Europe appears Weepu's last-chance saloon. The veteran is under the cosh.
There are doubts he will rise to the challenge to close the growing gap on his ever-emerging rivals.
Aaron Smith's rapid ascent through the ranks and snappy delivery set new standards this year, adding a new dimension to the All Blacks' attack - one Weepu could not match.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow's deserved selection as the third halfback in Steve Hansen's 32-man squad tomorrow emphasises New Zealand's new-age breed of diversely skilled No 9s.
Wellington's T J Perenara will soon return from injury to reinforce his undeniable talent, and the door has not been completely closed on Canterbury's Andy Ellis.
Kerr-Barlow will be nervous ahead of his test debut. Weepu should share his trepidation.
One start in the last 10 tests suggests Weepu is out of touch.
Apart from providing a calming influence in atrocious conditions against the Pumas in Wellington, the 29-year-old has not made a desirable impact from the bench for the All Blacks this year. Frustrations are mounting, but not enough to demand his axing.
After an underwhelming Rugby Championship, where the pace of the game seemed to surpass his ability and concerning fitness levels, the Sunday Star-Times understands Weepu has been given an ultimatum to lift his work-rate, execution and form, or risk losing his place - for good. These opportunities are not a given, for anyone.
Signs weren't positive this week when Auckland coach Wayne Pivac didn't want Weepu - not even for bench duties in last night's premiership final.
The next six months are career-defining for Weepu - the same could be said for Ali Williams.
He must shake the rut and prove he has the hunger and desire to add to his 66 tests.
The wintery European conditions may cause the tempo to slow somewhat. That could be the perfect scene for Weepu to rediscover his mojo.
Sunday Star Times