Henry gives All Blacks trio hope

Rico Gear, Doug Howlett and Luke McAlister still have a chance of playing in next year’s World Cup despite being excluded from Graeme Henry’s 22-man conditioning squad.

On Monday Henry announced the names of the players who would be withdrawn from the first seven rounds of the 2007 Vodacom Super 14, which excluded the Howlett, Gear and McAlister. The 22-man squad will partake in a conditioning period aimed at ensuring they arrive at the World Cup at optimum fitness.

The trio have all played significant roles in New Zealand’s retention of the Tri-Nations but were released to play for their provincial sides for the “Top 6” round of the New Zealand Cup, as well as to their Super 14 franchises for the entire competition.

Henry though refuted rumours that they were being discarded.

“They missed out because we thought they were self-sufficient, some of the others weren’t,” Henry told rugby allblacks.com. Luke, in particular has had a lot of injuries, he needs to play, he needs to run the Blues, that’s part of his development,” added Henry.

He also scoffed at suggestions that the lengthy lay-off would be detrimental to the 22 players match fitness and general sharpness.

“They’ll have plenty of opportunity,” Henry said. They have seven Super 14 games plus the finals, early test matches and the Tri-Nations. That’s a huge number of games, they haven’t got the chance to go off the boil.”