Ranger making most of premature swan song
With possibly just eight games left in Rene Ranger's test career, he is the perfect example of you don't know what you've got until it is going.
The depressing countdown begins in Saturday's final test against the French in New Plymouth.
After two explosive cameos from the bench Ranger starts on the left wing in place of Julian Savea. Enjoy his unique talents while you can, though. He is set to take up a three-year deal with French club Montpellier worth close to $600,000 per-year after the Rugby Championship.
Of course, life could be worse for a humble Northland lad who left school when he was 15. But it's hard to shake the sense Ranger would have done things differently had he seen the big picture. The timing seems off. Surely he is walking away from his All Blacks dream too soon. Only now is he confident in his abilities at this level.
When he locked up his future security by signing a binding "pre-contract", the lay of the land was completely different. Back then Ranger was frustrated. On the outer and having just come off one of the worst campaigns with the Blues, where he was herded through positions like cattle on a dairy farm, it is easy to see his rationale.
Without a crystal ball how was he to know Cory Jane would get injured? Or that Tamati Ellison and Richard Kahui would be struck down and then ink overseas deals.
"I'm going," Ranger confirmed yesterday. "It's one of those decisions I was looking at earlier in the year. I didn't think I would be in this team. They had Richard Kahui, Conrad Smith, Cory Jane...I thought I was still behind them. For me to get here now, I'm pretty happy."
The 26-year-old played three tests in 2010 but there is little doubt both his mental and physical attributes have aligned since then.
"I'm finally in this team. It's a great environment now, different than in 2010," he said. "But my mind was up and down back then. I made the decision for family reasons and different challenges. I didn't think I was going to get them here."
While regret was not a word he wanted to use it was clear he was having second thoughts recently. And why wouldn't he? Here and now Ranger is a valuable member of this All Blacks team. Keeping Savea out of the side is no mean feat and he may also be used at centre this week, with Ben Smith's form keeping him on the wing.
"It's unfortunate Rene is going to go because he's had a pretty good season at 13," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen emphasised his versatility yesterday.
Every option was exhausted as attempts were made to buy Ranger out of the French deal. The asking price, however, was too much. No-one was willing to fork out up to $300,000 to keep him in New Zealand rugby.
Details of his pending move were only finalised last week and so attention can now shift from the on-going saga to what Northland, the Blues and the All Blacks are losing. Soon there will be no more Action Man; no more freakish off-loads; no more crunching hits or powerful busts. Sigh.
This week Ranger's task is to transfer his impact from the bench to the starting team. He would dearly love to play one final game for his home province of Northland, alongside Fijian star Rupeni Caucaunibuca, before leaving, though Hansen is likely to have other ideas.
"Hopefully I can take that performance off the bench to the starting team," he said. "If I can do my role hopefully all the fancy stuff comes later. I'd love to play for Northland before I go. Whether I make the side for the Rugby Championship, I'm not sure. That's in Steve's hands. He's been up front with me. And I've been up front with him. The first NPC game is a [Ranfurly] Shield challenge it would be a great game to play in."
Unfortunately sometimes you can't have the best of both worlds.