Rebel Ged returns to chase All Blacks dream

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 09/05/2013
Ged Robinson
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REBEL: Ged Robinson has signed with Hawke's Bay.

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The Melbourne Rebels might appoint a new head coach next season, and if Kurtley Beale returns to Sydney, a new X-factor will also be required for their backline.

What is guaranteed is the need for a new first-choice hooker, although Ged Robinson will not necessarily be lost to Australia's latest Super Rugby franchise.

A proven talent scout, the 29-year-old will continue to alert Rebels management to potential New Zealand recruits from his new base in Hawke's Bay.

A foundation player at the Rebels, and the only member of the original Kiwi clique still on the roster, Robinson was a prime mover in former Wellington players Scott Fuglistaller and Jason Woodward graduating from provincial rugby in the ' Victorian outpost.

"It was a bit of a laugh really," Robinson said of his role in Fuglistaller breaking into Super Rugby fulltime this year after two appearances as an injury replacement for the Highlanders in 2012.

"I knew they were looking for a seven. The whole year I said, 'You've got to look at this guy'.

"I knew they were looking for a guy that was really good at getting steals over the ball. I knew he would suit them perfectly," Robinson said before the Rebels take on the Blues in Auckland on Saturday.

"Scotty deserved a shot at Super level and hadn't really got it."

Outside back Woodward also stood out on the tapes Rebels head coach Damien Hill scrutinised to assess Fuglistaller, and the 22-year-old relocated to Melbourne late last year after failing to interest the coaches of New Zealand teams.

Robinson could certainly empathise with the pair's plight. An inability make inroads at the Hurricanes during two years in the wider training group convinced him to join the Australian Rugby Union's ambitious plan to gain a toehold where AFL rules.

After establishing himself in the Rebels front row and leadership group, he is now abandoning a high point of his career to play ITM Cup for the Magpies - in the hope of making the All Blacks.

The Hawke's Bay Rugby Union last weekend confirmed that Robinson had effectively replaced three-test hooker Hika Elliot for the 2013 provincial season - a step down before ideally making a step up for a player whose advancement in the capital was stymied by Andrew Hore and Dane Coles.

Robinson played six games for the Hurricanes in 2009, but when he could not add to that tally the following year he chose to join Greg Somerville, Hoani Macdonald, Kevin O'Neill and Tom Chamberlain in giving the Rebels' first pack a strong New Zealand influence.

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Initially signed to back up Wallabies hooker Adam Freier, Robinson featured in all 16 games in the Rebels' inaugural season, and when the Australian was hampered by injuries he became a fixture in the starting front row.

Robinson played 14 of the Rebels' 16 games in 2012, fended off the challenge this season of Shota Horie, Japan's hooker at the 2011 World Cup, and he has resisted an opportunity to extend his stay in Melbourne to the end of 2014.

The Rebels placed an expiry date on the offer and after much soul-searching with his pregnant wife, they decided to return home so Robinson could attempt to fulfil a childhood dream.

"The All Black dream has always been there and always been part of it," he said.

"I have no idea if I'm in the mix. I just want to throw my name out there.

"The whole plan of coming over here was to get more game time. I didn't want to go and play overseas and lose that dream I had since I was five, and I knew coming here was going to help me."

Robinson realised he was not going to a team likely to win regularly - in 2011-12 the win-loss ratio is 7-25 - but that was never a deterrent.

"I looked at it an an opportunity to play rugby at a high level. I wanted to see what I was made of at that level. I would have taken anything to play anywhere at Super Rugby at that stage."

Although a means to an end, Robinson embraced the city and the Rebels' bid to share the code's territory at AAMI Park with the Melbourne Storm.

"The first year it was amazing being in a team where it didn't actually matter so much if you lost," he said.

"Just getting out there and playing and expanding the game over here was quite exciting.

"I probably didn't realise how much I would enjoy it here, but I don't want to look back on my life and say that I didn't give it [the All Blacks] a shot when I had the chance."

Whether Robinson, who turns 30 next month, has a realistic chance of All Black honours is debatable. He has not had any communication from coach Steve Hansen and when he informed New Zealand's Super Rugby teams of his intention to return home, none indicated a spot could be available in 2014.

"They've all passed so far, so I'm rolling the dice here, though I'm pretty confident in my ability to be able to go well and get one [contract]."

Robinson said the possible twilight of Keven Mealamu and Hore's test careers added to the justification of moving to Napier in late July, although he would not be surprised if the 34-year-olds, with 176 caps between them, were eyeing the defence of the Webb Ellis Cup in 2015.

"That came into the equation. I realise the landscape of hookers in New Zealand is almost at a turning point with those two being around for so long, but again they could keep going and end up at the World Cup too," he said.

Corey Flynn and Elliot also want to pressure the incumbents and then there is the younger generation - Coles, Liam Coltman, James Parsons and Quentin MacDonald.

Robinson respected the rookies but still felt experience was an advantage in a position that influenced the efficiency of a team's set piece.

"There's a lot of pressure on you in the scrum and lineout and I think as you get older you learn to cope with the pressure better," he said.

"You develop your game and you have a better understanding of who you are as a player and a person."

If he isn't the right man for the All Blacks, Robinson has a backup plan.

"I'll keep chucking names out to the Rebels. I've done all right with the two I've given them so far," he said.

"I might have a job back there afterwards."

- Fairfax Media

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