READER REPORT:

Eight key future All Blacks

CAMERON CHALMERS
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2014
MALAKAI FEKITOA
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ
NEW ROLE: With no specialist second five-eighths in the squad, young Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa looks set to start in the All Blacks No 12 jersey against Argentina next week.

Have the All Blacks selectors been too harsh?

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Have the All Blacks selectors been too harsh?

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Before one questions the omissions and admissions of certain players from or to the latest All Blacks selection, I think it's worth while considering what the main objectives are for the team in the short and long terms.

Given the next World Cup is a little more than 12 months away, it is vital we keep the player base as fresh as possible while rewarding those who have been playing well enough to cut the mustard.

Of the readmissions, Charles Piutau, Dan Carter, Sam Cane and Steven Luatua have been brought back in.

Piutau was always going to make the end of year squad had he not had an injury. Carter needs no explanation nor introduction; he is still No 1 despite many pundits saying his reign is over.

Cane and Luatua both offer different things, yet both are workmanlike on the field and off it. They both got in after the 2011 World Cup and since then with Kieran Read have been the best backrow combination on the planet.

I'm not sure if the Crusaders trio of Colin Slade, Matt Todd and Ryan Crotty should feel all that hard done by. They will all take part in the Super Rugby final this season. Even if they had made the squad, it's unlikely they would have got much game time, given their workload and number in the pecking order for their respective positions.

Which brings me back to the short term and long-term goals. I can recall the All Blacks did not win the Rugby Championship in 2011, as Uncle Ted and co were more concerned with winning the World Cup.

Given the lesser significance of the Rugby Championship, it was a worthy sacrifice, as it also instilled in the squad that winning was to be the only option at the World Cup.

Given the squad was largely the same for the World Cup, one can doubt that it will be any different this time around.

With regard to the long-term goals, it seems apparent we have found replacements for Richie McCaw and Carter in Cane and Aaron Cruden, so I think it's also important we continue to blood new players. We have an experienced but old front row, and a real lack of depth in the midfield.

It was important Malakai Fekitoa played well for the Highlanders this season because there have been few if any others who have put their hand up for selection. Given the lack of depth, Fekitoa is likely to be around for some time.

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With regard to the future, putting aside improving and making adjustments, I would like to offer some suggestions as to who could fill the gaps, especially after 2015:

Front rowers:

1. Ben Tameifuna, Chiefs: His work rate is great and he has a great attitude. He has been an easy first pick for the Chiefs from week to week and it's easy to see why. Perhaps after shedding some weight he could be a real asset in the All Blacks tight five. Given he's only in his early 20s, he has time on his side.

2. Rhys Marshall, Chiefs: While he has struggled to get game time with the Chiefs this season, the Taranaki rake already has a Super Rugby title to his name from last year. Many of the game's finest rakes go their whole career without ever winning it, so his experience in two or three years will be incredible. His technical skills do need work but with some diligence, he will get there.

3. Liam Coltman, Highlanders: Like Marshall, he is young and has had a stellar season with the Highlanders. He is a typical Kiwi good bloke, and his work ethic is of the highest standard. In two or three years he should be in the mix.

4. Kane Hames, Highlanders: Probably the silent achiever of every Kiwi front row this season. The reason his name gets a mention here is because he averaged 10 points a week on Dream Team Virtual Rugby, which is an outstanding effort. I'm glad he was on my team for most of the season. Like Coltman, he brings a real grit and hard-nosed abrasiveness to the Highlanders front row, and some form of a title whether Super or ITM would only improve his case.

As for the midfield, we have been starved of depth given Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu have been the best international pairing for some time. I will nominate two second five-eighths and two centres:

1. Malakai Fekitoa, Highlanders: Needs no introduction, his work on and off the ball has been outstanding and fits the blueprint of a modern centre. Strong ball carrier, sound defender with good all-round skills.

2. Jason Emery, Highlanders: Not many outside Palmy would have heard his name, and the young Manawatu centre has struggled to see much game time in Super Rugby this season. He is a former New Zealand Schools and NZ U20 representative so one cannot doubt he is destined to move on to great things.

3. Charlie Ngatai, Chiefs: The ex-Gisborne Boys' High School student has been a standout performer for the Chiefs when not injured. He can play 12 or 13 both competently, and has a good tactical boot. His support play is good and he has a good running game. He is also one of few to have won a national 1st XV title with a Super 8 school, with Gisborne Boys' in 2007. Ngatai already has a Super title to his name, so his experience and pedigree cannot be questioned.

4. Ryan Crotty, Crusaders: He has been a standout performer and leader for Canterbury and the Crusaders for a few seasons, and is also competent at 12 or 13. Like Fekitoa, he has a great eye for the gap and given he scored the winning try in that memorable match in Dublin last season to clinch a 14-0 win record for the All Blacks speaks volumes about him knowing about being in the right place at the right time.


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