Luke Romano can empathise with the dirty dirties.
This time last year he too had been sitting in the stands, biding his time.
Being selected in the All Blacks is an emotional occasion. Waiting for your chance to become a "real" test player can't be as much fun.
Put yourself in Jeremy Thrush's shoes. In Auckland the Hurricanes lock sat on the bench watching the clock tick down wondering when his time would come. It didn't. Not until the following week in the series-clinching victory in Christchurch at least.
Last year Romano sat out the first two wins over Ireland before earning his boarding pass in Hamilton. The anxious wait is something he will never forget.
"I'd been in the DDs [dirty dirties] for the first two and I got my chance in the third test," Romano said as the All Blacks assembled in New Plymouth yesterday. "If you're in that position you've got to do what's best for the team."
This year, the unglamorous behind-the-scenes task of holding the tackle bags and running defence at training has fallen to Crusaders flanker Matt Todd, Blues duo Steven Luatua and Francis Saili. All three players are yet to make the bench.
"Those guys have been instrumental in helping us prepare for the first two tests," Romano said. "Their chance will come and when it does I'm sure they'll excel and show why they've been selected for the All Blacks."
In the modern era, where complaints are made that test caps are given away all too easily, these cases prove a respectful earning process remains. The 27-year-old Romano has gone on to play 13 tests and is a vital member of the second-row.
Of the remaining All Blacks' uncapped threesome, Luatua is most likely to make his debut this week. The blindside flanker has shown athleticism, strength and ball-playing skills that deserve a chance at the next level.
But Saili and Todd - the latter was called up as injury cover for now-mended lock Sam Whitelock - both face the prospect of not making it on to the field throughout the series against the French. While they have benefitted from the experience in the All Blacks' camp, it must be hard to get so close and, essentially, be forced to walk away empty handed.
With the series in the bag, some might suggest there is nothing to lose from throwing Saili and Todd into the mix, but Romano highlighted the ruthless attitude of the All Blacks this week.
"It's good to have the series wrapped up at 2-0 but we can't go out there and think just because we've got it wrapped up the third one is going to be easy as well," he said.
"The French have shown over the years that as soon as you don't take them seriously and think they're down and out they'll come back and bite you in the bum. We're fully preparing for this to be a test match. They put us under some real pressure in Christchurch and in Auckland. They're not down and out by any means."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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