All Blacks: Fringe contenders to be given chanceSave
By Wynne Gray
Younger All Black prospects will get their chance at several training camps this month.
But when that group is cropped for the June test series against France, all the established All Blacks will be picked to restate their international credentials.
A number of fringe contenders will be chosen for the camps at Mt Maunganui, starting on May 19 and May 26, with extra room because the Highlanders are offshore.
That will open vacancies for others to be assessed in the absence of Ben Smith, Hosea Gear, Tamati Ellison, Ma'a Nonu, Aaron Smith, Tony Woodcock and Andrew Hore.
There will be room in a group of about 35 for young players such as Brad Shields, Luke Whitelock and Ben Tameifuna.
If their form continues, young men like Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, Francis Saili, Steven Luatua, Tim Nanai-Williams, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Ben Afeaki, TJ Perenara, Ardie Savea, Tom Taylor, Dominic Bird and Liam Coltman will receive their summons.
Those twin training sessions will allow the All Black selectors and staff to assess more contenders if the senior men do not come up to standard for the Four Nations and end of year tour.
The initial selection date in the All Black calendar will be June 2 when the squad for the French series is announced.
In an uncanny reflection of last season, Cory Jane, Richard Kahui and Charlie Faumuina will be injury casualties. Captain Richie McCaw will be missing and so will fellow loose forward Adam Thomson from a likely list of 30 players.
The injury absence of Jane, Kahui and exit of Sonny Bill Williams leaves room for someone with the versatility of Rene Ranger. He was in booming early form at centre for the Blues and has shown an ability to cover for them on the wing, where he started against the Boks in 2010.
His work has matured and if Ranger has an exit clause in his overseas deal, he will be a stronger choice than a specialist wing like Zac Guildford, the exciting Halai or the smaller Tim Nanai-Williams.
The other gaps are in the loose forwards where coach Steve Hansen will be hoping that No8 Kieran Read continues to recover from the ``turf toe'' problem which has dogged him.
Read must be the main candidate to fill in as captain before McCaw makes his anticipated return from his sabbatical in the Four Nations.
At least one more loosie will be needed to bolster a group of Read, Victor Vito, Liam Messam and Sam Cane and the Blues' Steven Luatua is pushing strongly to fill that niche.
A third hooker will be picked with Dane Coles, Corey Flynn and Hika Elliot considered to back up Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore.
Mealamu has played little after his extended layoff, Hore has been favouring damaged ribs while Coles is on limited training because of his broken eye socket. All three are likely to make the cut for June though.
Likely test squad
Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Hosea Gear, Julian Savea, Rene Ranger, Conrad Smith, Tamati Ellison, Ma'a Nonu, Daniel Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Piri Weepu, Aaron Smith, Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Kieran Read, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Steve Luatua, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Ali Williams, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Dane Coles.