ESPN SCRUM

/ New Zealand

/ Features

Craig Dowd

Craig Dowd Craig Dowd RSS FeedFeeds

Craig Dowd played 60 Tests for New Zealand between 1993 and 2000, including in two World Cups, and he was part of the All Blacks team that won their first series in South Africa in 1996. He played for the Blues and Auckland in New Zealand domestic rugby, and for Wasps in England from 2001 to 2005. In 2009, he coached North Harbour in the ITM Cup. More recently has been a SKY Television comments man.

Craig Dowd
All Blacks enjoy an embarrassment of riches
Craig Dowd
May 14, 2014
Ben Smith has to be in the starting side, Craig Dowd believes © Getty Images
Enlarge

Even three weeks out from the first Test against England it is obvious from the naming of the All Blacks wider training squad this week that the back three are going to provide some headaches for the selectors.

All Blacks Training Group

  • Hookers: Keven Mealamu (Blues), Nathan Harris (Chiefs), Dane Coles (Hurricanes), Liam Coltman (Highlanders).
  • Props: Charlie Faumuina (Blues), Tony Woodcock (Blues), Ben Franks (Hurricanes), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Owen Franks (Crusaders).
  • Locks: Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Jeremy Thrush (Hurricanes), Dominic Bird (Crusaders), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders).
  • Loose forwards: Jerome Kaino (Blues), Steven Luatua (Blues), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Liam Messam (Chiefs), Victor Vito (Hurricanes), Richie McCaw (Crusaders), Kieran Read (Crusaders) / Luke Whitelock (Crusaders).
  • Halfbacks: Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Chiefs), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders).
  • Fly-halves: Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Colin Slade (Crusaders).
  • Midfielders: Ma'a Nonu (Blues), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Ryan Crotty (Crusaders), Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders).
  • Outside backs: Cory Jane (Hurricanes), Julian Savea (Hurricanes), Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Ben Smith (Highlanders).
  • NB: Jeremy Thrush will attend the Wellington camp only, and Luke Whitelock the Christchurch camp.

Which one of Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Cory Jane or Julian Savea is going to miss a place in the side? Who gets the fullback position: Dagg or Smith? Would you have Jane and Savea starting? Or would you have Savea and Smith starting with Jane on the bench?

It could be they will start with Dagg at fullback with Savea and Smith on the wings and Jane on the bench. You have to ask: who would have thought two years ago that Jane would be on the bench?

Savea and Smith have to start the Test, but it is a case of where Smith starts: at fullback or wing? That aside the team picks itself, fitness allowing.

It was really disappointing that two key players for their teams, Charles Piutau for the Blues and Luke Romano for the Crusaders, won't be available for the All Blacks.

Piutau would have been an absolute dead cert to make that All Blacks training squad, as he's had a good Super season; at least his injury is not as bad as that of Romano, who is effectively out for the year. Romano has had a bad run with injuries but his game at All Blacks level is such that when he plays well the All Blacks play well. He's the hard man in that forward pack, and he has taken over that Brad Thorn role really well.

Romano will be missed, but his absence has created an opportunity for a youngster like Patrick Tuipulotu. The Blues lock is a young kid with a lot of potential. To rise from a 19-year-old making his debut in ITM Cup last year and to carry that season on to be named in the All Blacks training squad, not yet 12 months into his professional career, is a sign there is a lot more to come from this kid. He's got good aerial skills, he's a big unit, he's a good lineout forward and obviously a very strong scrummager and he's ticking all the boxes. If you go through and look at his weaknesses, you would have to say his inexperience is one. But he's improving that every day. He has got a lot of potential.

Patrick Tuipulotu has come a long way in 12 months © Getty Images
Enlarge

The hooking situation is an interesting, but good on the All Blacks selectors for drawing a line in the sand and saying they want to have a look at Liam Coltman and Nathan Harris and to see how they develop.

You've got to start somewhere and I've always believed you can manufacture good tight forwards. They don't have to have X-factor. They need work ethic; if they have got that, you can make them bigger and you can teach them the arts of throwing to lineouts and scrummaging - both of which are learned skills. Getting those young fellows into that environment is key for both of them, and Tuipolotu as well.

There was no surprise he selectors went with Malakai Fekitoa. He has put his hand up, and we observed some weeks back that he would be in the mix. He is someone who is going to really push the incumbents, and that is what the All Blacks need.

Malakai Fekitoa has put his hand up all season © Getty Images
Enlarge

There are no surprises in the squad, especially after the weekend's injuries, and it is hard to find any players who could be regarded as unlucky. It is as good an All Black team as we could pick, and it is very strong.

The strength of New Zealand rugby has also been further illustrated this week, with another round of players signalling their departure from New Zealand.

There always will be guys who leave; that's the nature of professional rugby now. There're opportunities everywhere.

Tyler Bleyendaal will have looked at his pathway at the Crusaders, and he will have seen Colin Slade ahead of him; Tom Taylor is there, too, and Dan Carter. Then nationally, there are Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett. You go through the list of five-eighths and he hasn't made any inroads towards getting higher honours, and he's not starting at Super Rugby level.

There are good opportunities out in the rugby world for a good No.10 and New Zealand rugby has never been stronger in that position. He's obviously looked at his career long and hard, and Munster is an opportunity on his career path.

He could well come back in the future, just like Jerome Kaino has; and the latest rumour I have heard is that Richard Kahui is coming back.

The trend seems to be go away, make a bit of money, come back, push for higher honours, increase your CV, and see what you can break. And that's fantastic for any school leaver thinking he wants a career as a professional rugby player who, if he does everything right and works hard - because talent will only get you so far, you still need to do the work - can get around the world and make a bit of money because there is life after rugby to worry about as well.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.

  • Latest
  • Most Viewed
  • News
  • Features
  • Rugby

    England held to draw by USA as Portugal stun All Blacks

    England reached the quarter finals of the Cathay Pacific-HSBC Hong Kong Sevens after qualifying second from Pool D following an entertaining 21-21 draw with USA

  • Formula 1

    Massa frustrated by Williams' wet weather pace

    Felipe Massa says Williams is still "too slow" in the wet after he could only qualify seventh in Malaysia

  • Formula 1

    Honda halfway up a 'high mountain'

    Honda admits it is only half way up a "high mountain" with its new power unit after McLaren qualified on the second to last row at the Malaysian Grand Prix

  • Formula 1

    Who said what after qualifying in Malaysia

    ESPN rounds up all the reaction from up and down the paddock after qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix

  • Formula 1

    Verstappen: Brakes cost me better than sixth

    Seventeen-year-old Max Verstappen will start his second Formula One race from sixth on the grid but admitted it could have been even better without a brake issue in Malaysia

  • Football

    A Klose call

    Miroslav Klose scored goals in the World Cup final tournaments of 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. Has anyone else scored World Cup goals 12 years apart?

  • Formula 1

    F1 cost cutting: Not putting money where the mouth is

    Mudslinging and an agreement on something that will never happen, it's all in a day's work for a Formula One boss, as Maurice Hamilton explains...

  • Formula One

    Tough at the top

    Who has driven in the most GPs before taking pole position?

  • Rugby

    Unsavoury sledging did not end with Potgieter

    Fallout continues from the NSW-Brumbies derby, with one Tahs forward - not Potgieter - surprised by other unsavoury comments during the game, Greg Growden reports

  • Rugby

    Super Rugby preview, team news, line-ups: Round 7

    Greg Growden previews Super Rugby round 7. We've also got key stats, team news and all the line-ups to inform your ESPN Footytips Super Rugby picks

  • News
  • Features

Sponsored Links

Make Huge Income from your Home
Download your Free Guide And Learn How To Increase Your Monthly Income