Mehrtens: Form men may have to bide time

ANDREW MEHRTENS
Last updated 05:00 03/06/2014
Rugby
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FULL OF FLAIR: Standout Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa has been named to the All Blacks squad.

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OPINION: I would love to see Beauden Barrett and Malakai Fekitoa get a chance to start a test for the All Blacks against England. But something tells me we won't see that tantalising prospect until the end of the series.

In an ideal world the All Blacks take the incumbents in, go 2-0 up, and then unleash the likes of Fekitoa and Barrett to start the third test. Something to look forward to, definitely.

Although Barrett, Fekitoa and some others are applying pressure with their form in Super Rugby, All Blacks coaches don't tend to be too knee-jerk around what they're seeing at the level below.

There's a certain comfort derived from guys used to stepping up a level for the All Blacks. They are familiar with the speed and intensity, which goes up significantly, and they are also used to where people are going to be.

You can understand the loyalty aspect for an All Blacks coach too. Why would he break up the best centre pairing in the world in Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith? Nonu has been a standout in an erratic Blues outfit and Smith's phenomenally high standards are a constant.

So it should be no surprise to anyone to see Steve Hansen go initially with the warriors who got him through 14 tests last year undefeated. I know I have been beating the drum for Barrett as the best 10 all season, and I would love to see him get a start. But it's also right that Aaron Cruden gets first crack - something he has earned through being a consistent quality performer at test level over the last few years.

Let's face it this is a very good All Blacks squad. You know that because there's almost no debate around it. Normally there are a few contentious calls, but the silence has been deafening round this group.

That means the All Blacks have timed their moves in Super Rugby well. The Crusaders' hefty contingent of internationals is a good example of that. After their bye, they've ramped up their performances over the last month and hit June in good form.

Some have been consistent all the way through - like Conrad Smith, Ben Smith and Sam Whitelock - but looking through the All Blacks from last year I can't see any who shouldn't be there on performance, which is a good thing.

This is all encouraging. It means there's co-ordination between the All Blacks setup and the franchises, and everyone is on the same wavelength. That's one of our strengths in New Zealand - our ability to work together with little infighting.

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Jerome Kaino is probably the one "new" face applying pressure. I'd want him playing his natural No 6 more often than 8, even though he's clearly capable there as well.

Blindside is Kaino's natural position, and in 2011 he was the best in the world there.

But he still might not unseat Liam Messam. I see them as neck and neck, and Messam is the guy who got it done last year.

The other interesting one will be what they do at the back. Izzy Dagg, when he's been good, has been very, very good. But Ben Smith has been consistently outstanding.

I guess they've got four guys in that back three they can just rotate into three positions. Oops, did I just say rotate?

ON THE Super Rugby front, let's start with that atrocious decision to award a penalty try and yellow card at Eden Park.

All I will say is that somebody has got to take a skate for that, for a number of reasons - the most obvious being that it was so wrong.

I'm just not sure roles are clearly defined at the moment, and we're getting a lot of strange decisions via significant (you might say over) involvement from the TMO. Not just here either; there were howls of protest in Britain during the Premiership final as well.

People would tolerate the odd mistake from refs rather than the game being slowed up by guys sitting up in their box trying to make a name for themselves by getting in on the act.

It perhaps wasn't too surprising to see the Canes slip on their banana skin.

It's exceedingly hard to back up quality performances, because there's no way your preparation can have the same intensity and same fear behind it after an exhilarating, confidence-boosting victory.

It was the same for the Sharks, who also had travel to deal with, and they found the equation too tough against the Stormers in Durban.

But two teams that must be delighted going into the break are the Crusaders and Waratahs. They talk about moving day in golf - this was moving month for them as they both have one hand on their conference titles.

The Crusaders' display against the Brumbies was frighteningly good, and they haven't quite matched that standard since. Their attack is still a little flat-footed, but when that pack decides to manhandle the opposition, they remain a formidable team.

- Stuff

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