Smith: Give fringe ABs a chance at England

ON THE OUTSIDE: Crusaders playmaker Colin Slade is unlikely to see All Black action in the test series with England.
ON THE OUTSIDE: Crusaders playmaker Colin Slade is unlikely to see All Black action in the test series with England.

Come on Steve Hansen don't be a party-pooper.

You'll almost certainly secure a series victory against the pesky Poms at Dunedin's Glass House tonight. So, couldn't you spare a few fringe All Blacks for the Crusaders' canter against England on Tuesday?

Surely, you haven't forgotten the magic of a provincial team scalping an international side?

Wasn't that you we remember, swathed in a red-and-black scarf, munching on a Stevie's pie, up the back of the schoolboy enclosure in 1973? Don't you remember that splendid September day when Grizz Wyllie's good guys smoked the hyphenated Hooray Henrys, 19-12 at Lancaster Park (hallowed be its name)?

You'd agree it was worth a whiff of lung-bunging black smoke from the old gasworks' chimney to see the three Lions of England troop off with their tails between their lily-white legs.

Wasn't that you we saw debating with your dad at halftime, the merits of England's zonal defence against Canterbury's man-marking system?

Weren't you that confident kid of 14 who ran on the field after the final whistle and warned All Black Ian Hurst you'd have his No 13 jersey one day?

Or were you still living in your native Otago then, Mr Hansen, watching Laurie Mains kick goals with his toe?

Wherever you were, you'll remember the days when All Blacks would play a test on a Saturday then fly home and turn out again for their provinces on the Sunday in what were basically friendlies with nothing but pride at stake back then.

A few forwards once drove through the wee small hours from Auckland to Wellington still bearing the scars of a rucking good time in the test match and a big night afterwards. But, hangovers and hamstring strains were soon forgotten - they pulled on the boots next afternoon regardless.

Yes, we know it's a different century, another era altogether, today. There was no Rugby Players Association back then. Sabbatical had too many syllables for rugby men of yore when Grizz laid the lore - "You only skip practice due to death or crutching".

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Young rugby men still want to play 80 minutes every game.

Which brings us, belatedly, to our point. Do you really need your dirt-trackers holed up in Hamilton, clutching tackle bags at practice?

Do fellows on the fringe learn more from training than playing?

Wouldn't it better for blokes like Matt Todd, Colin Slade, Dom Bird and Ryan Crotty to get some game-time against England.

Todd, we recall, once shot home from Nelson after a rep game against the Makos to play for Christchurch in a Metro club rugby final. That's dedication for you.

The Kaiapoi Kid hasn't played for yonks since stuffing his calf in Richie McCaw's comeback game. We're certain he'd hitch his way home over the Kilmog if he could get 40 minutes or so in the No 7 jumper against England.

No-one expects first-choice All Blacks to trotting out on Tuesday against Stuart Lancaster's mob. But Crotty, Todd, Slade and Bird would beef up the Crusaders and make it more of a contest.

The full-house sign will be out at the AMI Icebox, so the rugby authorities owe it to the fee-paying masses to put on the best show they can.

You see these one-off events are games memories are built on.

And for many of the Canterbury players, who never became All Blacks, the 1973 victory was probably the highlight of their careers.

The same could apply to the lads Todd Blackadder fields on Tuesday night.

The Press