Hinton: Cory Jane must remind us of greatness
Cory Jane is a funny guy with pretty serious intentions who has risen to meet all challenges thus far in his All Black test career. Let's see if one more energises the 31-year-old from the capital.
It's early to say do-or-die, but All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is clearly challenging his right wing to deliver something special in Saturday night's second test against England in Dunedin.
Hansen today delivered a lineup featuring just one change from the 23 who performed inadequately in Auckland on Saturday night in a 20-15 victory to open the three-test series against England.
Where there might have once been alterations en masse after such a flawed performance, Hansen has elected to say, "let's show us you're better than that".
His men dropped everything from their bundle to their composure in Auckland, but the coach has introduced just fit-again left winger Julian Savea to his starting XV, the blockbusting Canes crusher coming in for the injured Israel Dagg (thigh/knee) whose first test form wobbles have dodged proper scrutiny. The bench remains intact.
That sees Highlanders standout Ben Smith shift to fullback - his best position - and Jane flip to the right wing where he faces one of the biggest tests of his long international career. He's a great player, no doubt, but he needs to remind us all of that on Saturday night.
Hansen directly challenged Jane when he spoke to the media in Dunedin today, admitting that the big positive of Savea's return from injury was that it allowed Jane to return to the right wing where he was much more suited.
"He was just all at sea last week - you didn't see him get up for the high ball, and he wasn't comfortable jumping off his left leg, as opposed to his right leg," Hansen said.
The All Blacks coach conceded he wouldn't look to shift Jane to the left side again, and the inference was clear: This is a big test for Jane to restore his reputation as one of the best right wingers in the game.
Jane has been nothing short of sensational throughout a test body of work that has spanned seven seasons and 46 tests. But knee injuries and father time (he's 31, in age, if not maturity) have taken the edge off a game that was once pretty well-rounded and razor-sharp.
There remains a sneaking suspicion that Jane needs to prove his value in the final thrust towards an historic World Cup victory on foreign soil, and that's where Saturday night could be pivotal. With Jane, Smith and Savea all firing, there are serious statements to be made.
If everyone was fit, healthy and touching their best, Jane might right now run fourth in the race to fill the All Blacks' back three positions, and that's with Charles Piutau (knee) still out of the picture and working his way back into the mix.
But Dagg's injury, following a pretty ordinary 54 minutes in Auckland, allows Jane one more chance to stake his claim. He's always been a guy who thrives on being the right fellow in the right place, but needs to unleash the gamut of skills that have been such a feature of his repertoire thus far.
"Our mindset this week has been all about improvement, taking ownership and responsibility for our individual roles with the aim of delivering a team performance we can all be proud of," Hansen said while uncorking his lineup.
"We have a strong belief in what we are trying to do and I assume the English do as well. So come 7.35 on Saturday night, it's game on once again. That's what test rugby is all about and that's why we can't wait for Saturday night to arrive."
The other feature of Hansen's lineup is the steadfast determination to see Kieran Read take his time back from his head problems at No 8. Let's face it, this is the best player on the planet we are talking about, so there can be no chances taken.
Read won't play until he's well and truly ready. Who cares about England? Jerome Kaino, about to play his 50th test, is a worthy replacement. Like Jane, a reminder about his class, and his repertoire, would not go amiss.
The remainder of the lineup to face the English under the roof of Forsyth Barr Stadium should not, and will not, surprise.
What Hansen is saying to his men who rolled out of bed at the Heritage last Saturday morning and just expected the colour of their jersey to get the job done, is that you can take nothing for granted at this level of footy.
The All Blacks were played off the field at Eden Park, and frankly, it was an embarrassment. Stuart Lancaster's England lineup was distinctly second-string in its nature, yet it played like world-beaters. The New Zealanders ran a distant second everywhere but the scoreboard.
But that's all right. Hansen has faith. He's declared that with his lineup,
As an All Black you only get one chance to atone for a performance like last Saturday's. Jane, and others, now get the opprtunity to show that form may indeed be temporary, but class remains decidedly permanent.