Thursday, November 26, 2009

Doubts over whether ABs have enough in reserve
By TOBY ROBSON in Marseille -

Call it keeping fresh, call it rotation, call it what you like – the All Blacks have taken a calculated risk in selecting an unorthodox reserves bench to play France.

On this tour Luke McAlister, Stephen Donald and Tanerau Latimer each have just one test, against Italy, in the bank as they head into the biggest match of the year.

In the cases of McAlister and Donald, they do not, as reserves, provide adequate cover for the outside backs.

Second-five Ma'a Nonu will cover the wing in a throwback to Hurricanes seasons of the past.
The plan may prove a masterstroke.

Donald is proven as an impact man late in tests, and his desperate chase was the key play in the win over Australia in Sydney earlier this year.

McAlister is also capable of changing a game with his skill and power. Neither will let their team down.

However, there is a case for more orthodox selections and many will argue that wing Zac Guildford, who is in a rich vein of form, may have made more sense as a reserve.

Attack coach Steve Hansen was relaxed about the mix, but one wonders how the test might pan out if Nonu is forced to the flanks early on.

Nonu last appeared on the wing for the All Blacks against England as a replacement for Sitiveni Sivivatu in June 2007.

Latimer's reappearance ahead of Adam Thomson as a specialist openside to Richie McCaw is another interesting call.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry's argument for Latimer is sound.

"Every time he's played for the All Blacks, he's played very well. He had an outstanding game against Italy and it's a pat on the back for what he's done, quite frankly," he said.
"Richie has the ability to play eight, or six and Tanerau didn't play last week and we are trying to keep it as fresh as possible."

But again, there is a risk that if Latimer is suddenly thrust into the No7 role with only the Italian test behind him, he may struggle to get up to speed.

Interestingly, McCaw was touted by Henry as a legitimate test option at No8.

The skipper is not enamoured by the idea, understandably protective of his spot at openside, but it is a switch that has a great deal of appeal.

He spent a few minutes there against Wales and if there is an injury early against France, he may spend more in Marseille.

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