Whitelock tipped to replace Thomson in ABs

LIAM NAPIER IN ROME
Last updated 05:00 14/11/2012
George Whitelock
Farifax NZ
NEXT IN LINE: George Whitelock could replace Adam Thomson in the All Blacks squad if Thomson is ruled out of the rest of the European tour with suspension.

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George Whitelock had better double-check his passport details. If Adam Thomson takes a decent skid for his reckless ruck against Scotland, Whitelock is expected to be asked to hastily pack his boots for the long-haul journey to Europe this week.

Thomson's date with the judiciary in London tonight may be Whitelock's second-chance draw.

The Canterbury captain was the next, seventh-choice flanker in line for Steve Hansen's 32-man All Blacks' squad.

Fairfax Media understands the 26-year-old could be about to receive a belated All Blacks recall, three years after his solitary test against Italy at openside flanker in Christchurch, depending on the result of Thomson's hearing. Whitelock is the likely replacement if Thomson is unavailable for the final three tests of the year against Italy, Wales and England.

Others understood to come into contention if Thomson's tour, and potentially All Blacks career, is cut short include Wellington flanker Ardie Savea, Canterbury's Luke Whitelock and Auckland's Steven Luatua.

While those three talented candidates have more long-term appeal, they are not ready to be thrown in for the last two major assignments, especially if injuries strike.

Playing on debut at Millennium Stadium - formerly Cardiff Arms Park - and Twickenham is a daunting task.

The reality is George Whitelock presents a short-term stop-gap option and, even if he is whisked to the other side of the world, may not play a game. He wasn't included in any of the All Blacks' wider training groups this year, but his experience gives him the edge on his youthful rivals.

Calling on resources from Jamie Joseph's New Zealand Maori team who are already based in England is another option, but Hansen isn't bothered by logistical concerns. This All Blacks' management group have also shown minimal interest in versatile Taranaki lock-come-flanker Jarrad Hoeata, so his selection would be a surprise.

"It makes sense to bring the next best player," Hansen said of a replacement. "If that's someone from the Maori team then that's what we'll do. Otherwise, if we have to, we'll make other arrangements."

At this moment Hansen believes that next best player is the eldest Whitelock.

Thomson travelled to Rome yesterday in the knowledge that his pointless actions created an unnecessary distraction for his team. He will have to trek back to Heathrow to plead his case with support from All Blacks backs coach Ian Foster.

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The Otago veteran apologised to Scottish flanker Alasdair Strokosch for lightly rucking his head after the match, but that will not save him facing a suspension that may end his All Blacks career. IRB punishment guidelines recommend between two and nine week bans for "stamping or trampling".

"I don't think any of the boys want to go around and do something silly like that," All Blacks wing Cory Jane said. "None of us deliberately go out there to do foul play."

Privately, the All Blacks expect Thomson to be punished, but they remain hopeful their defence lawyer can secure a reduced sentence. 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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