Backs given chance to impress
August 8, 2011
Toeava last pulled on an All Blacks jersey in November 2010 © Getty Images
All Blacks trio Isaia Toeava, Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui are all set to travel to South Africa in an attempt to secure their place in Graham Henry's final 30-man squad.
Fresh from seeing what the first-choice players were capable of in Saturday's 30-14 triumph over the Wallabies, the All Blacks coaching team will use the team's next Tri-Nations test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth on August 20 to give those recovering from injury a chance to push their claims. Toeava played 69 minutes for Auckland in their victory over North Harbour in the Battle of the Bridge on Sunday, while Dagg starred in Hawke's Bay club rugby on Saturday.
Dagg is likely to play for Hawke's Bay at the weekend, while Kahui plays for Waikato against Canterbury next week. Toeava, Dagg and Kahui are all trying to push their claims to be named for the final squad for the World Cup in September and October, and coach Henry said all would head to South Africa as they needed game time to push their claims.
"We have to name it (the World Cup squad) the Tuesday before the Australian test (which is played in Brisbane on August 27), so it's pretty important that they play," he said.
The battle for outside backs places is particularly tight. Mils Muliaina is certain to be selected as a fullback but Toeava and Dagg are in a battle with Corey Jane, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Hosea Gear and Zac Guildford for four or five extra places in the squad for outside backs. Kahui, a centre who can also play on the wing, also comes into this mix, though his selection probably depends on whether the selectors want three or four midfield specialists.
Henry said the good form of those outside backs who have played for the All Blacks this season were making the selection difficult. "I was clear a couple of weeks ago, now I'm pretty foggy about that," he said. "Everybody who's been given the opportunity has played well, so after next week's test in South Africa we've got to make a decision.
"You're going to have guys playing in that game who haven't played a lot of footy lately against their top team, and that's going to be a great challenge."
Prop Tony Woodcock is also expected to join the All Blacks in South Africa, despite limited game time and a minor hamstring injury which kept him out of the Battle of the Bridge on Sunday. Henry said Woodcock told him he could handle playing South Africa despite his limited game time.
"He's played 80 tests, so he knows what he's doing. He won't play the whole game, but we just need to get him back in the fold."
Sivivatu is unlikely to join them, however, after sustaining an eye injury shortly after scoring the clinching try for the All Blacks against the Wallabies. "He's got a fractured eye socket, which is not good," Henry said. "He probably will miss South Africa but probably will be right for Brisbane." The squad for the South African trip, likely to be kept to 24 players instead of the allowed 26, assembles later this week and heads to the republic on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Dan Carter admitted he enjoyed his rare drop goal in the All Blacks win over Australia. Though All Blacks fans are quick to criticise opponents who resort to dropped goals, their own team's inability to land them -- or even attempt them -- cost them in both the 1995 and 2007 World Cups.
So Carter's successful landing of a field goal on Saturday will give fans some reassurance that he can land one if it proves vital when the All Blacks try to break their 24-year World Cup hoodoo later this year. Carter has scored more than 1200 test points but until Saturday he'd only landed two dropped goals in 81 tests, and the last of them was in 2008.
But when an opportunity presented itself early in the second half, Carter was in perfect position and struck the ball sweetly to extend the All Blacks' lead to 20-0. "I guess the timing was pretty good in terms of extending our lead," said Carter, who had been subbed from the field when the All Blacks most needed a dropped goal in their World Cup quarterfinal loss to France in 2007.
"I've been working pretty hard on the dropped goals throughout the season for the last couple of years, so it's always good to get the reward out there on the paddock for the hard work put in on the training field."
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