Friday, October 03, 2008

Specialist back-up for McCaw a priority

Friday, 03 October 2008

Graham Henry will probably carry 20 forwards in his 35-man squad for the All Blacks' six-match end-of- season tour. When Henry took a 35-man squad on the All Blacks' grand slam tour in 2005, he opted for a split of 19-16 but on Thursday said he was likely to take one more forward to the northern hemisphere.

Although he would not discuss names, Henry said there would be "one or two" uncapped players included in the squad. He said skipper Richie McCaw would not play in all five tests against Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. The other match is a mid-week fixture against Munster.

"It would be too big of an ask for Richie. A tour like this is something we have done before and we are just going to kill him if he plays every game. He is just not going to be able to handle it."

Henry will carry seven loosies, five locks, five props and three hookers in his squad and confirmed one of the main priorities was to unearth specialist back-up for McCaw.

The coach used a left-right flanker concept in the earlier tests this season but said a genuine No. 7 would be selected for the tour. Henry would not list names but if he sticks with the players he has used this season - Rodney So'oialo, Jerome Kaino, Adam Thomson, Sione Lauaki and possibly Daniel Braid - it leaves just one vacancy to be filled.

"We will probably take an out- and-out No. 7 because if Richie was to get injured over there and couldn't play, we would look a bit foolish if we did not have another one in a squad of 35."

After his rich form at blindside flanker for the Crusaders, Kieran Read was unlucky to miss selection for the All Blacks earlier in the season and is another loose forward option. It seems certain Anthony Boric will join Brad Thorn and Ali Williams as the travelling locks and with Kevin O'Neill ruled out because of a shoulder injury, Henry must decide whether to recall the likes of Ross Filipo and Jason Eaton or blood some newcomers.

Andy Ellis, Piri Weepu and Jimmy Cowan are expected to fill the three halfback vacancies and with Stephen Donald certain to tour after establishing himself as back-up to first five-eighths Dan Carter, Canterbury's Stephen Brett's chances of being picked possibly rely on being used as another option at second-five behind Ma'a Nonu. "I think he's (Brett) got utility value," Henry said. "The biggest problem for Stephen has been that injuries have hampered his ability to play."
A quadriceps injury has ruled Brett out of tonight's match against Southland in Invercargill, meaning he will only have the play-offs to impress before the squad is named on October 26.
There were concerns about filling the No. 12 spot left vacant by Aaron Mauger and Luke McAlister earlier this year but Nonu's performances have tempered those concerns.
However, Henry will also want a different style of player, one more comfortable with kicking under pressure.

Canterbury's Tim Bateman may be an option at second-five.
"We have been watching him and been impressed with his game but we are also watching a lot of others," Henry said.

Thank you miss FSS; enjoy your long weekend!

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