Concerns for Henry

GARETH DUNCAN writes that only a few All Blacks second stringers would’ve satisfied Graham Henry in Port Elizabeth.

Henry’s main priority was to give all his players a chance to put up their hands ahead of the World Cup. With nine big names left behind in New Zealand (including skipper Richie McCaw and Dan Carter), this was the fringe players’ opportunity to impress before the announcement of the final All Blacks’ 30-man World Cup squad.

The spotlight was always going to be on Colin Slade, who will be Dan Carter’s understudy at the tournament next month. In only his sixth Test (and third start), the 23-year-old had a satisfactory opening 15 minutes. He played a role in two early try-scoring opportunities but he failed to make a lasting impression during the rest of the match. Slade’s tactical kicking was particularly disappointing overall while he also missed two goal attempts before limping off with injury in the 60th minute.

Stephen Donald was failed experiment at Test level over the past several seasons. When he was axed from the provisional squad this year, Slade was seen as a promising replacement. However, Slade’s performance in Port Elizabeth confirmed that there’s still a lack of quality to back up Carter, meaning the All Blacks’ World Cup hopes will depend largely on the latter’s fitness and form.

Elsewhere, the All Blacks’ most impressive forwards were lock Sam Whitelock, No 8 Liam Messam and flanker Jerome Kaino, who carried the ball well and hassled the Boks at the rucks. Adam Thomson was expected to play a ‘McCaw type’ role at openside flank, but his performance was sub-standard as he failed to make any impact at the breakdown. He also conceded too many penalties and Morne Steyn duly punished.

In a pre-match interview, Henry stated that the spots still undecided in the All Blacks’ starting line-up are in the back three and in the midfield. Fullback Israel Dagg was the only standout performer in the backline as he was solid in his return from injury. Wing Isaia Toeava had a few telling runs early on, but failed to replicate the form he showed in the first half of Super Rugby.