Talk about anti-climactic.
I don’t make a habit of feeling bad for professional rugby players. Theirs is a pretty good life, complete with a healthy pay packet and all the other trimmings that go with being young and successful.
But it’s hard not to spare a thought for Alex Hodgman, Caleb Clarke, Hoskins Sotutu, Cullen Grace, Will Jordan and Tupou Vaa’i. After the joy of Father’s Day and of telling their loved ones about their sudden elevation to the All Blacks comes the reality of Mitre 10 Cup training.
What was the hurry here? Why has Ian Foster even named a 35-strong All Blacks’ squad?
We assume the team will play this year, but when exactly? October? November? December? Any later than that and it’ll be 2021.
All the best-laid plans to stage The Rugby Championship in New Zealand appear as if they’ll fall over. Between our COVID-19 situation, and those in South Africa and Argentina, it’s apparent that hosting the four-team tournament is now highly unlikely.
That leaves just Australia as a potential foe, with two tests on either side of the Tasman the anticipated outcome.
An announcement of some sort is expected at the end of this week but, given the various coronavirus protocols that have to be observed, it then looks as if it will be a further month before any All Blacks’ footy gets played.
So why the rush? Why name 35 players now when (at least those who are fit enough) are all off to play provincial rugby for a couple of weeks?
Would it not have made more sense to simply name the team then?
When those seven new caps look back on their life, Sunday will be right up there. With luck, there’ll be marriages and births to look forward to – maybe even a Rugby World Cup final win – but being picked in the All Blacks for the first time will remain as special as any of them.
Your heart would be made of stone if you weren’t moved by the footage of Vaa’i, for instance, sharing the news with his family.
Only his immediate reward is not a test cap. In fact it’s not even the generous fee players earn by being in All Blacks’ camp. No, he’s off to Inglewood to play Taranaki against Bay of Plenty.
Whether they can see it or not, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) have rained on these players’ parades. They’ve taken a moment of immense satisfaction and celebration and diminished it a little.
Mind you, premature and unnecessary calls are becoming an NZR specialty. Again, whether the powers that be like it or not, the decision to appoint Sam Cane All Blacks’ captain looks increasingly optimistic.
We’re at the point of having to collectively cross our fingers where Cane’s concerned, given his history of concussion. He might be symptom-free again – and set to play for the Steamers on Sunday – but for how long?
New Zealand’s 2019 player of the year, Ardie Savea, has to play somewhere, though, and Cane’s openside flanker spot might be it. Looking at the other loose forwards picked: Sotutu, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Cullen Grace and Shannon Frizell, there’s plenty of blokes who can play blindside or No.8, but not so many 7s.
Given his immense ability, sitting Savea on the subs’ bench would seem a bit of a nonsense.
As for the captaincy, well, it’s not hard to imagine Sam Whitelock will assume that role at some stage this season.
Once the team is able to play, of course.
Until then, you still wonder what the point of North v South was.
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