Smith's spot shaky but Savea states case

TOBY ROBSON IN ROME
Last updated 05:00 19/11/2012

The All Blacks scored five tries and put in a decent second-half display to down Italy 42-10 in Rome.

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CLAIM: Savea has once stated a strong claim for a ABs jersey.

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As Julian Savea's selection on the left wing crystallised, another got a little murkier after the All Blacks' 42-10 win over Italy.

Coach Steve Hansen's two-week trial is over and now he must nut out the top 15 he promised when the side embarked on its end-of- year tour.

Top of his list might be what to make of halfback Aaron Smith whose form has dipped at the back end of his brilliant debut season.

A few weeks ago the thought of Piri Weepu being the preferred No 9 seemed ridiculous, but it may be a distinct possibility in Cardiff on Sunday (NZ time).

What's surely not in doubt is that Savea will get the chance to inflict misery on Wales and most likely England in coming weeks.

The Black Bus has become an express and increasingly a two-for-the-price-of-one deal with fellow wing Cory Jane.

Yes, Jane was at fullback in Rome, but it was hard not to draw a comparison with two former outside backs as their modern-day equivalent cut capers at Stadio Olimpico.

Wellington wings Stu Wilson and Bernie Fraser used to feed off each other's play as they tore around Athletic Park in the 1980s.

Jane and Savea scored or were involved in four of the All Blacks' five tries against the Azzurri.

Jane played one of the better 26 minutes recorded when he replaced Beauden Barrett.

Wearing the No 23 jersey, Jane resembled a Harlem Globetrotter as he toyed with the Azzurri.

The way he calmly placed his left palm on second five-eighth Alberto Sgarbi's shoulder and ushered his diving body to the turf, was a moment to saviour.

Jane played first receiver for Savea's first try, sucking in two defenders before passing Ma'a Nonu into space, then provided a blistering counter-attack before swinging a one-hand pass to who else but Savea, who ran in his 10th try in seven tests.

Left wing was still up for grabs before the test, but with Hosea Gear a mixed bag in the unfamiliar No 14 jersey, Savea grabbed his chance.

Halfback is an interesting quandary. Are Smith's issues related as much to the team's progression as his own form?

He was heckled and manhandled at the ruck against Italy and did not get the quick ball he thrives on.

But Smith's problems may be related to another factor.

It is the use of forwards at first receiver where they are used to quickly transfer the ball to a runner outside them, usually another big man. The tactic is being used to find the weak seam in opposition defences. That is often three or four players from the ruck where defenders can get caught in two minds about coming in, or staying out in case of a wide pass.

It has been effective this year, but is becoming a tad predictable, and at times telegraphed.

When it doesn't work the All Blacks, and their halfback, do not go forward to the next ruck, and with Luke Romano and Richie McCaw not playing, there wasn't the same impact from the ball runners against Italy.

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They return next week and perhaps that'll spark Smith's game back to its previous levels.

The other interesting selection could be on the bench where Barrett's versatility and confidence may be pushing hard for a spot previously occupied by Aaron Cruden.

- Waikato Times

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