Weepu battles for starting role

Piri Weepu polarised public opinion with his well publicised battle with his weight issues.
Piri Weepu polarised public opinion with his well publicised battle with his weight issues.

Piri Weepu is prepared to bide his time in his battle for the starting halfback spot in the All Blacks with rookie star Aaron Smith and in the meantime play the role of mentor.

Having played 58 tests  23 of them starts Weepu is easily the most experienced No9 in the current New Zealand team setup.

But he has polarised public opinion with his well publicised battle with his weight issues outside the international season and was a controversial selection for the current three-test series against Ireland.

So far he has come off the bench in the two tests to date with Smith impressing in his first starts with his bullet-like passing and lively all-round game.

Nothing was being given away today about the likelihood of any personnel changes for the dead-rubber third test at Waikato Stadium but after the close call in the second test, won at the death by a Dan Carter dropped goal, it seems unlikely there will be many if any.

"I wouldn't have a clue [if I have any chance of a start this week],'' said Weepu in Hamilton today as the All Blacks prepared for that final test to be played at Waikato Stadium this Saturday night.

"Shag [head coach Steve Hansen] likes to hold his cards close to him so he doesn't sort of let much slip out, but I guess I've just got to wait and see how things go at this stage and if I do get on the field I'll try and make the most of it.''

Weepu said he was no different to the other players in the All Blacks squad who all wanted to start the third test after the way the Irish had fronted so forcefully and successfully in the second in Christchurch.

But meanwhile Weepu is happy to work closely with Smith and help him where he can to improve his game.

"Nuggy's been doing really well. He's only played two tests so far but he's obviously shown some pretty good talent and the coaches have shown a lot of faith in him for him to be here.

"We always sit down and have a coffee together and chat over what we need to do as halfbacks during the week to prepare ourselves for the game.''

One possibility of change could come at No8 if Kieran Read's head knocks rule him out although there's been no indication of that so far this week.

Weepu said both halfbacks would have to get alongside whoever took Read's place if there was a change to sort out their combinations, but he backed skipper Richie McCaw to do that job if the coaches opted to go that way.

"Reado is a huge key player obviously between the backs and forwards so that position demands quite a bit and we've got to make sure we work really hard with whoever takes on the No8 jersey if Reado's not fit.''

Weepu admitted the halfbacks had not done a lot of work with McCaw last week in the No8 role that he had slipped into when Read went off during the second test.

"But if he's named there this week we'll definitely do a lot of work around calls and what we want out of the scrum and what we want him to do when things don't go the way we want.

"He's played there a number of times and I guess it's just a matter of making him feel comfortable in that position and take the stress off him as much as possible at the back of the scrum.''

Regardless of whether there are changes, Weepu said the All Blacks' attitude had to be better this week.

"Obviously we didn't have it quite right last weekend and although we have won the series it's never-ending for us.

"We've always got to improve and we definitely want to improve from last week's effort. Everyone this week is out there trying to make sure we get the little things right,'' he said.

Waikato Times