Mystique of All Blacks selection has long gone

IAN SNOOK
Last updated 05:00 16/05/2013

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OPINION: The romance and mystique of days gone by, long before the mobile phone and a plethora of rugby games on television, does not exist anymore when it comes to the selection of All Black rugby teams.

No more do we have to puzzle over the likes of Mike Burgoyne from North Auckland, Trevor Morris from Nelson Bays or Phil Clarke from Marlborough or any of the many bolters who earned a tour spot in the All Black jersey, after rising from obscurity at an All Blacks trial.

In a way though, the All Black trial system is still taking place, with two and a bit teams assembling for a few days to size each other up and edge ahead of a mate, before the final squad for the French series is named. There is no travel by railcar or a railways coffee leading into the clashes and no Colin Meads to dominate proceedings, but ultimately the rationale behind the assembly of New Zealand's best players remains the same.

So, no one blinks when Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen replaces Ben Taumeifuna in the enlarged squad, the fact that Zac Guildford fell behind Frank Halai in the pecking order and that Dane Coles stayed ahead of Hikawera Elliott because it is written about on a daily basis and discussed and viewed at length on radio and television, so much so, that nothing is a surprise any more.

From what Steve Hansen has been stating, it doesn't really matter anyway if a player is in the squad or not, he will still be considered for the French series if his form warrants selection and his is a position that is required in the mix. It's a puzzling one but I guess Matt Todd, Luke Braid and Tanerau Latimer need to believe what he is saying before contemplating their future.

What the 2012 and now 2013 squads do represent is an opportunity for some young players to strut their stuff in front of the selection panel to demonstrate not only their enthusiasm and work ethic but how they would fit in to the mantra of being a "good All Black" in every sense of the word. The opportunity presented is of huge proportions if they are to carry on working in rugby.

For the oldies, it is a time to regather and discuss the likelihood of a "strike" coming up, so as to represent their fellow players in endeavouring to shorten the playing seasons, how good it is to have a rest from the Super XV and to get re-ignited by the All Black environment where they feel comfortable and positive. Some may be a little worried but by being recognised at this stage there is a good indicator all is going to plan.

What the selectors clearly painted is the need for experienced players to form the core of their starting 22.

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It is most likely that only one or two new faces will appear on the screen when the teams run on to Eden Park on June 8.

None of the older contingent, some out of form in Super Rugby, were given the chop and Hansen is confident they will rise to the occasion when the "time" comes.

The likes of Ben Afiaki, Steven Luatua and Tom Taylor may find themselves on the bench but all those named in the run-on XV will certainly have been there before.

The excitement has almost gone out of pretending to be a selector, though you can bet your bottom dollar there will be many more changes before 2015, so maybe we can turn our energies to spotting talent for that big tournament.

Yes, that will be more fun.

Ian Snook has coached professionally for 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland and Italy.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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