Thursday, October 23, 2008

Richie's back-ups split for head-to-head trial
Tuesday, 21 October 2008

All Blacks flanker hopefuls Tanerau Latimer and Scott Waldrom are set to go at each other head-to-head when Graham Henry's wider training squad plays the New Zealand Barbarians in a practice match in Auckland on Wednesday.

The race to be Richie McCaw's backup could be defined in the afternoon game at Henderson with one of the flankers loaned to Pat Lam's Barbarians side along with a lock.

Either Latimer or Waldrom will don the famous red Baabaas jersey in their quest for a spot on an All Blacks tour that features tests against Australia in Hong Kong and a grand slam attempt against Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. There is also a midweek fixture in Irleand against Heineken Cup champions Munster.

The Barbarians are essentially a Blues trial combination of Auckland, North Harbour and Northland players but there is an obvious gap at No 7 in their ranks with Daniel Braid having now departed and fellow Auckland flanker Onosai'i Auva'a still suffering from a head knock in the final round loss to Northland.

Lam will operate a squad of about 30 players and the All Blacks will use the bulk of their 25-man wider training group named last Sunday in a match that will be played over the traditional two halves of 40 minutes at Trust Stadium in Henderson.

Lam is delighted to have the opportunity to put some of his younger players through their paces given the failure of all three of the Blues unions to make the Air New Zealand Cup playoffs.

"But this game is about the bigger picture. It's all about the All Blacks and helping them get ready for their tour," said Lam."There's plenty to play for in that All Blacks training squad. We want to give the All Blacks a good hit-out and I'm expecting this to be a full-on game. We have some shortages at openside and lock so that all works out well."

Young Auckland halfback Grayson Hart will join the All Blacks' group as backup to Jimmy Cowan who is the only No 9 in the squad.

Auckland halfback Taniela Moa, who was part of the All Blacks scene during the Tri-Nations after Andy Ellis was injured, won't be involved in this practice game. He had surgery to an ankle injury last week and is out of action for the next four to five weeks, ruling him out of tour contention.

With Ellis now suffering a knee injury that has a question mark over his place in the Canterbury team for Saturday night's final in the capital, young Wellington halfback Alby Mathewson could have everything to play for as Piri Weepu's deputy at the Cake Tin.

Gus Collins and Nick White are other Blues players who are being rested with Lam saying he wants to have a look at his younger players.
"We've got 11 Blues players in the All Blacks frame, so this is a good opportunity for us to look at the next group," said Lam.

Lam will oversee a Barbarians coaching staff that includes former All Blacks halfback Steve Devine. He has been coaching the Auckland Colts along with former All Blacks hooker Derren Witcombe. An obligation in Japan will keep Witcombe away from this fixture with Auckland forwards coach Mike Casey in charge of the Baabaas pack.

Warriors player Ryan Shortland is another who will be trialled for the Blues with Lam saying he is keen to switch codes now that his league contract is up. Jimmy Gopperth, now having switched permanently from Wellington to North Harbour will be at first five-eighths and Lam said he was keen to see exciting young Northland wing Rene Ranger get a run at fullback.
Lam will name his starting side on Wednesday morning.

The All Blacks wider training group assembled in Auckland on Monday afternoon and will train on the North Shore on Tuesday. The 35-player All Blacks touring squad will be named at 9am on Sunday in Wellington.

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